Status of new NDHS explained at recent meeting

MD-ndhs replacement aerial 3x-030716

Special to Dorchester Banner
Aerial view of the proposed North Dorchester High School from the northwest. Classrooms, the library, work spaces, and offices are left and center. The theater is at the rear of the complex behind the Grand Hall entryway with gymnasium facilities to the right.

HURLOCK — At the Feb. 29 update regarding what School Superintendant Dr. Henry Wagner called the “most critical project in the North Dorchester area,” attendees learned first-hand about the status of the new North Dorchester High School. Dr. Wagner emphasized community input and said, “I believe what you’ll see tonight is a clear indication of that. Every step of the way at critical decision points,” the committee heard the public’s priorities for the new school.

Architect Peter Winebrenner of Hord, Coplan, and Macht noted he was “very excited” to share progress since the March, 2015 community meeting. “A lot has happened,” he said. He reviewed the process since 2014 when the feasibility study began and the recommendation was made to replace the current 1950s building. Conversation with county and state officials began, a Steering Committee formed, and community meetings held.

The plan was approved at state and local levels for a projected enrollment of 639 students. Mr. Winebrenner explained that the design will go out to bid shortly with Whiting-Turner as the general contractor. The official groundbreaking this summer points towards occupancy by the fall of 2019.

A “visioning exercise” at the first public meeting led to “guiding principles” for the architects. The school will: Be a multipurpose tool to support community use; fully incorporate the use of technology; be safe and secure; engage and respect all learners; be flexible, adaptable, resilient and expandable; have approved athletic programs and facilities; be energy efficient and sustainable; and fully use the entire campus for learning.

A second meeting in February 2015 asked participants to focus on laying-out the different aspects of the building. The “planning principles” arose from that exercise.
Mr. Winebrenner noted, “At the end of March 2015 we came to you with three different interpretations of what the steering committee did, what this group did, and then our pass at it. You commented on and graded them.”

“We ended up with three options: #A-1 was a T-shaped building on the corner of Cloverdale and Rt. 14; #A-2 was an A-shaped building on that corner; and #B which was an L-shaped building closer to the Middle School.” In the meantime the school board and county officials contemplated the current track site as a viable option. That led to #C. Several items were considered to see how the third location satisfied those needs, including: Student safety during construction; schedule impact; additional costs for earthwork and site utility work; drainage, access; creating a new fields complex; enhance the school image; and added costs for each options. Option #C filled the bill.

A new athletic complex will sit between the high school and the middle school. It will include a new track plus playing fields to accommodate soccer, baseball, softball, additional practice fields and a new building complex. Dr. Wagner explained that the new track is an 8-lane, regulation track that will enable us to have state track meets.”

Mr. Winebrenner explained that further guidance from the steering committee and meeting attendees resulted in a multi-story building that is attractive from the outside and dramatic at night with a plethora of glass and lights. He said, “The nexus between mind, body, and spirit translated not just metaphorically but physically as well in the building design” to include: The academic; fitness and health via the dining area and physical education; and the arts, all of which surround the central gathering space.

An impressive “learning stairway” is flanked by amphitheater type seating and can also be used as an instructional space. A two-story academic wing includes classrooms, group project rooms, and space for teacher planning. Humanities instruction is on the 1st floor with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) on the second.
A 650-seat theater has a large stage, support spaces, and access for equipment and is flanked by music rooms.

Mr. Winebrenner addressed a major concern for attendees – security. He noted that an entrance vestibule allows multiple points for observation and admittance of visitors. Numerous doors, located near stairways for quick exits, have no exterior hardware. They are exit only. The only entry doors are at the main entrance into the vestibule adjacent to the school resource officer’s location which is also a communications center as is the principal’s office. He explained that a person can go no further until admitted via the office. The large amount of glass is an ally. Mr. Winebrenner emphasized that multiple first responders including the Sheriff’s office, emergency services, and others reviewed the plan before it was finalized.

Dr. Wagner said, “We have had extensive conversations with law enforcement and public safety about how to build this the right way to begin with.” Mr. Winebrenner explained the architects visited other school facilities for input and have included a “robust security camera system as well.”

In response to a question about using the new facility as an emergency shelter, Mr. Winebrenner said there are plans for an emergency generator system in areas which might hold large numbers of people. Plans for a minimum amount of emergency services include the ability to add a larger generator.

The evening’s activity was designed for participants to rank the “alternates,” those items that are not essential to the educational process but add to the experience. Because of “uncertainties” in the construction market, Mr. Winebrenner said the architects have created as much flexibility as possible for the school to afford the building. There are items in the project, called “alternates,” that are not critical to safe, efficient operation of the school but would be very nice.

Participants received play money to select alternates that correlate to community wishes. Some alternates cost $5; some more and each person could spend only $100. Some alternates included: Solar-thermal hot water heater, video equipment for the gymnasium, an irrigation system for sports fields, auditorium chairs with cushions, landscaping for an outdoor courtyard/ classroom, classroom sound enhancement, lightning protection not required by code, a field house at the stadium with a concession stand, a larger generator, or perhaps an exterior street sign upgrade.

Dr. Wagner emphasized, “We want to have flexibility built in the design so that 30, 40, 50 years from now we’re not locked in to any one way of doing business. We will have the potential for sensible expansion.”

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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