Busy summer for school improvements

Dorchester Banner/Dave Ryan
Dorchester County Public Schools’ Energy and Projects Director Sam Slacum, left, and School Facilities’ Engineer Chris Hauge admired the new track on the North Dorchester schools’ campus, with a view from the roof of ND Middle School. Mr. Slacum is also DCPS’ county athletic director.

Editor’s note: This is Part I of a three-part series on improvements taking place in Dorchester County’s public schools.

CAMBRIDGE – A person might think that during summer break, with students and teachers not in class, schools would be quiet and empty, with no activity at all.
Not even close.
Not in Dorchester County Public Schools this summer, anyway. Projects large and small were underway during the vacation, as Board of Education engineers, local and outside contractors, as well as school maintenance personnel made the most of the summer months to improve the county’s sites.
“When the last school bus left on the last day of school, we started cutting stuff up,” School Facilities Engineer Chris Hauge said during a recent tour of the sites.
Mr. Hauge is entering his 19th year with the Dorchester system, and is the man in charge of keeping the buildings and their amenities in top condition, at the best value for the county’s taxpayers. That really means something in this rural, Eastern Shore county, one of the poorest in Maryland.
“The big message here is the amazing stuff happening, at little cost to the taxpayer,” Mr. Hauge said.
North Dorchester High and Middle
“When this job is done, we’re going to have a 21st-century high school and a 21st-century middle school, with an athletic facility they can both use,” Mr. Hauge said.
The job he was talking about is the $48.5-million project, funded in the capital budget, to replace North Dorchester High School. The new facility will replace the existing one, which has served area students for several decades, and is no longer up to the task, evidenced by the extensive patching visible in the exterior brickwork.
Mark Lowrie knows his way around the campus. As a 7th-grade social studies teacher at North Dorchester Middle School, and a coach of the high school’s cross country team, he has a strong interest in the improvements taking place.
“I think it’s an important time in our community’s history,” he said. Regarding the decades-old high school, he said, “For many years, since I’ve been teaching, they saw how old and run-down that building is.”
But the new site will put an end to that, as it offers greater comfort and academic benefits to the students. “It’s going to make teaching better,” Mr. Lowrie said.
Extensive discussion
Mr. Hauge and Mr. Slacum took a visitor to the roof of North Dorchester Middle School, itself only a few years old, for a bird’s-eye view of the construction. Workers were hard at it down below, having recently finished the foundation slab and placed a course of blocks around the outer edge of part of it.
“We just wrapped up Phase I, which involves the delivery of the competition venue,” that is, a soccer field and the new track, Mr. Hauge said.
The exact locations of the new high school and track were the subjects of extensive discussion involving community focus groups. As it turned out, the choice was to place the new school adjacent to Md. 14, meaning it would be where the track and soccer field used to be.
With the track having been replaced relatively recently, there were questions regarding digging it up, but practicality and savings took precedence.
The area by the road is the highest on the site, important for drainage – land needs to fall away from a building on all sides, especially in a low-lying area such as Dorchester.
“The other options on that site all involved raising the level,” Mr. Slacum said. That would have meant, among other considerations, $1 million of dirt that would have needed to be placed there.
‘Chomping at the bit’
The two engineers said with the high and middle schools being at each end of the property, the athletic facilities and parking could be located between them, creating efficiencies in use and construction.
One element from the previous athletic site that will still be used will be the lighting. The system – poles and lights – were taken apart, and put together again, at their new location.
The new track was built by the same company that handled C-SD’s a few years ago. Like its southern cousin’s site, ND’s track has eight lanes, something not all high schools can boast of. This means more efficient meets, as more athletes can compete at one time, cutting down on the number of heats. This, in turn, makes the site more attractive for tournaments, invitational meets and similar money-making events.
This company is also known for the quality and accuracy of its painting – all done by hand – on the track, something that might seem like a small detail, but makes a real difference to the sport. Many events of various distances and with different rules take place on a 400-meter track, and there are quite a few marks, lines and symbols that must be placed with great accuracy, something the company has achieved.
Mr. Lowrie and many others have their eyes on the progress. He said, “I’m chomping at the bit” to get his athletes training on the new track this fall.
And as for the spring track and field season? “I’m going to set up my chair next to the window and watch races,” Mr. Lowrie said.
Geothermal energy site
Geothermal energy is being used at the site. North Dorchester Middle School already uses the system, and wells have been dug under the new track for use by the new high school.
Geothermal energy systems involve water being pumped through pipes, in this case about 500 feet deep, where the water is heated by natural processes of the Earth. The hot water is then brought up, where it can heat buildings or be used to produce energy for cooling.
And there’s more than that going on with water at the site.
“A new drinking water supply system is being installed at the North Dorchester campus to improve water quality and system reliability. This work is being funded both locally and with grant funding that was sought out by the Facilities Department,” a memo from the department to educators said.
A new drinking water well has also been dug, meaning the school now has two. “We have redundancy,” Mr. Hauge said, important because ND is an emergency shelter for the area.
A steel building with water tanks has been constructed between NDHS and the neighboring middle school. Next to this is another steel building to be used to shelter maintenance vehicles.
At the end of August, the weather was cooler and drier than usual, giving the builders good conditions to make progress, though there’s plenty still to do. “This work [blocks on the foundation] will be going for months,” Mr. Hauge said.
‘We’re doing this
heart transplant’
Mr. Hauge has been pleased to see how much of the job had gone to nearby companies, keeping much of the money involved in the area. Looking across the site, as heavy equipment moved past men in color-coded shirts, he said, “These are all local people on the job.”
Work on the foundation will continue through the fall, with the project currently on schedule. It could all get done more quickly, but pouring concrete and pounding nails has to happen in coordination with funding.
“We have to build it to the flow of the dollars,” Mr. Hauge said.
The new facility is scheduled to open for classes in the fall of 2019. That will be the culmination of nearly of decade of work.
“This project was five years in planning and four years in building,” Mr. Hauge said.
Much of the planning involved making sure that instruction and other activities could still take place on the site during construction, so an orderly transition could occur without any functions having to be transferred elsewhere. “Everything can just roll on, while we’re doing this heart transplant,” Mr. Hauge said.
This work is being funded by both county and state funds.
Editor’s note: Part II of this series will appear in next week’s Dorchester Banner.

Dave Ryan is editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at dryan@newszap.com.

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