Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Update on GHS Building Project Work

Hard to believe we are already well into the month of December!  Time certainly does fly when you are having fun learning together!  Before I get into the meat of my blog post topic regarding GHS building project work, I did want to take a quick moment to thank two incredible GHS students who recently allowed me to "tag along" with them for 1/2 day of school.  Thank you to Julie Cooper and Maddy Gould!  Through this experience, I was able to gain just a little more insight into the experiences of our students at GHS.  While shadowing Julie, I was lucky enough to visit a Spanish classroom, chorus, and chemistry.  While shadowing Maddy, I was able to ride the bus to WRVC and tag along with her as she participated in the Medical Occupations program there.  Both students were incredibly gracious, allowing me to ask questions and gain insights.  Their fellow students were equally as open to having me around...opening up and helping me to better understand how our students see the strengths and challenges of our school system.  I learned a great deal ladies...and please know I will use that new learning in my future decision making!

OK, on to the topic at hand...a topic I know you have all been very interested in since we began talking about it ten years ago now!  For those of you who may not have been involved in this conversation for that long...some quick points to help you understand the need for this project and why we are working so diligently to bring this project to a voter referendum in November of 2019.

Quick Points:
*  GHS was last renovated in 1992.  At the time, the school was built to house 750 students.  We currently have 868 students in the building now - 118 more than it was constructed for.
*  Our Enrollment projections indicate that we will continue to grow in student population with our high school population scheduled to reach approximately 944 students by the year 2027-28.
*  Currently, our main entrance for students is located on the opposite side of the school as our administrative offices.  This creates a significant safety concern that we have worked hard to mitigate over the years, but one that must be more thoroughly dealt with by changing the physical plant for the long term.
*  Current classroom sizes in our building range between 500-717 square feet, while today's standards require classrooms of approximately 800 square feet in order to accommodate the type of learning required in today's schools.
*  The current cafeteria is far undersized for our students.  During our three lunch periods, students are forced to sit on benches in the hallway/lobby area, and unfortunately, often on the floor.
*  Mechanical systems at GHS are nearing the end of their useful life and many are inefficient compared to today's standards.  It currently costs $1.17/square foot to operate GHS while Great Falls Elementary School operates at $.91/square foot and that building is air-conditioned.
*  GHS currently operates 2.5 competition athletic fields compared to other comparable high schools in the state that operate between 6-8 grass fields (or utilize synthetic surfaces for fewer fields).
*  Currently we offer a total of 280 parking spaces for staff and students on site.  Schools of our size are now built to have between 400-500 parking spaces.  If you've ever tried to park at GHS during the school day - you understand the difference!
*  Currently, the community is not able to use our facilities in the way that we would like.  Because of our overutilized fields, and because of our crowded spaces, we aren't able to allow this important community use.  We want to open up our facilities more to community use - but in order to do this, we must design with this in mind.

The GHS Building Committee & Athletic Capital Campaign Committee:

These two committees have been working diligently over the course of the past year or more to develop specific designs for the project that attempt to meet our programmatic needs for students now and 25 years from now all while balancing the ability of our community to support such a necessary project.  No small task for sure, but we have the right people for the job on our committee! 

Membership on the GHS Building Committee includes:

*  Heather Perry, Superintendent of Schools
*  Chris Record, Asst. Superintendent of Schools
*  Darryl Wright, School Committee Chair
*  Brian Jandreau, GHS Principal
*  Tim Spear, Athletic Director
*  Norm Justice, Facilities Director
*  Hollis Cobb, Business Director
*  Robert Weed, GHS Teacher
*  Kate Stevens, GHS Guidance Counselor
*  Kyren Bettencourt, GHS Student
*  Sarah Plummer, Parent
*  Lee Pratt, Gorham Town Council
*  Suzie Phillips, Gorham Town Council
*  Jon Smith, Gorham Community Member

Membership on the GHS Athletic Capital Campaign Committee includes:

*  Heather Perry, Superintendent of Schools
*  Norm Justice, Facilities Director
*  Hollis Cobb, Business Manager
*  Tim Spear, Athletic Director
*  Jim Hager, Gorham Town Council
*  Cindy Hazelton, Gorham Recreation Director
*  Darren Shiers, Gorham Community Member
*  Ethan Johnson, Gorham Community Member
*  Gerry Durgin, Gorham Community Member
*  David Willis, Gorham Community Member
*  Craig Belhumeur, Gorham Community Member

These two committees have been meeting jointly for the past year with additional meetings held by the Athletic Capital Campaign Committee to plan our upcoming capital campaign launch.  Members have met to help build the design for the project, to help orchestrate a public survey regarding the project and to facilitate conversations with the full School Committee and Town Council to keep both of these groups well informed of progress.  All told, volunteers on these two committees have already put in countless hours of work in getting us to where we are with this project with much more work ahead of us.

Which leads us to the next piece...where are we with this project?  A very good question indeed!  Right now, we have an overall draft design that we are working from.  This draft design incorporates all of the programmatic, athletic, and community needs associated with this project at this time.  This IS NOT A FINAL DESIGN, but this will be the design that gets us to our first initial project estimate.  I expect that our first project estimate will be high, and because of this, we will then need to take more time to sharpen our pencils and reduce costs to get the estimated project total to a place where our building committee feels it can be supported by our community - all of you!

But for now, here is where we are:



I realize this is likely a bit small, so I'll review the highlights of what you see here.  Please note that what you see in the cream color for the building is existing.  What you see in the orange color is additional classroom space.  At this point, we are designing the building to house 1100 students even though our 10-year projections have us going to 944 students total.  We are doing this because we know that whatever we wind up doing for this project will be a 20-30 year commitment and we do not want to have to come back to taxpayers in 10 years with another capital project for GHS because we have run out of space. This enrollment target may change as we continue to move through the work.

You should also note when looking at the new classroom wing on the right side of the existing building that we are proposing to close the current access road on that side, therefore diverting all traffic down Ballpark Road and then reconnecting with the Access Road to allow traffic to flow to the high school.  This was done in order to give us space to build the new classroom wing.  This new classroom wing will be a two-story structure adding approximately 14 new classrooms and 2 science labs to GHS. 

As you can also see, this new wing takes up a small portion of Robie Park.  We are having to utilize Robie as a way to keep the expansion of GHS at the current location.  As you may recall, this is the least expensive of all options researched a year ago (we looked at building new on another site, flip-flopping with GMS, and renovating on existing site - renovating on existing site was the least expensive option) and what the Town Council requested we look at as our primary option moving forward.  We are working diligently to ensure we are leaving as much green space and functional community recreational space at Robie Park as possible while still meeting the needs of the project.  We are also proposing to move our tennis courts to Robie Park, which we hope will expand community access and use of these great recreational facilities.  Please note that even with the classroom expansion using access road and a small portion of Robie, and moving the Tennis courts to Robie, we are still able to leave the playground and community gardens in place for future use.  Also, the softball field will continue to remain where it is.

Continuing on with the building additions, when you look at the other orange areas, you can see that we are expanding our existing cafeteria to hold the appropriate number of students.  Additionally, because we are projecting to grow as much as we are, we are factoring in the need for an additional gymnasium.  This gymnasium will assure students are able to participate in Physical Education classes during the day, practice and participate in our after-school programs during reasonable times, all while also allowing more community use of our facilities.  In addition to the gym, we are also looking to add a large cardio and fitness room to this area which can be used by our students during the day and be open to the community for use outside of the regular student day.

Additional items to note from this site plan are the addition of over 200 parking spaces, the movement of the administrative offices to the main entrance side of the building with appropriate security measures in place to ensure increased student safety, and the movement of our main competition field to allow for the building changes necessary to accommodate the design.  We are also seeking the addition of synthetic turf to the main competition field so that we can provide an adequate space for our students to participate in PE classes during the school day, an adequate space for practices and competitions to be held by our students, and provide a venue that can be more readily used by our community when not in use by the school. 

What you can't see very well from this image is the fact that this renovation will also ensure our existing classroom sizes meet square footage standards for the present day, and our mechanical systems will be upgraded to be more energy efficient and reliable for the next 30 years!

Overall, what I hope you see from the diagram is that we have worked hard to address all of the identified needs for the building that will make this building a source of pride for our community for many more years to come!  By adding classrooms, by increasing square footage space in existing classrooms, by expanding the cafeteria, by moving administrative offices, by adding parking, and by focusing on how we can increase community utilization of this incredible Gorham community asset, I believe we are well on our way to making this project a success for our students and for the whole community of Gorham!

What to Expect Moving Forward:

The Building Committee will be meeting again on January 8, 2019 at 6:00 p.m. to continue its work.  After that meeting, the Building Committee will be presenting the draft design to the Gorham School Committee at its regular "on camera" meeting on January 9, 2019 at 7:00 p.m.  Folks can tune in via GoCat if you are interested in hearing a more comprehensive overview of the proposed project.  The School Committee will then host a joint meeting with the Gorham Town Council on January 15 at 6:30 p.m..  At this meeting, the Town Council will be brought up to speed on the project.  This meeting will also be televised via GoCat or interested parties may also attend any of these meetings in person.

After the School Committee and Town Council are brought up to speed, we anticipate that the first initial project estimate will be ready in late January or early February.  Once the Building Committee sees this, it will then work to adjust the project design to get the total cost to a place where it feels the community can support it.  This will be an ongoing and iterative process throughout the winter between February - June, 2019 that will involve a constant cycle of sharing information with elected officials and the public, gathering feedback, using that feedback to make revisions, and then sending more information out for more feedback until we land on what we feel is the best proposal to bring to the voters in November of 2019.

We anticipate the first (of several) community forum will take place in early February, 2019.  Simultaneously we will also be launching another "Thought Exchange" survey in February to allow those who may not be able to make it out in person to still share their thoughts and ideas about the project (you can view results from the original "Thought Exhange" conducted last spring by CLICKING HERE).  You can also follow all the work on our website.  You can view the building committee meeting agendas and materials by CLICKING HERE.  You can view the Athletic Capital Campaign Committee meeting agendas and materials by CLICKING HERE, and we are working to consolidate information onto a dedicated webpage that you can view here, although it is currently under construction for formal release later this winter.

The timeline for final decision making will be a vote for support of the final design by the Building Committee in July, 2019.  The School Committee will vote to approve a final project design in August, 2019 and the Town Council will need to vote to approve of a referendum to appear on the November, 2019 ballot by September, 2019.

Summary

The GHS Capital Project continues to move forward and is beginning to pick up significant momentum.  We have launched a broad-based community stakeholder committee (our Building Committee) to inform the process and they have been working diligently to first identify the needs that must be addressed in this project and to then work with our architects (Harriman Associates) to design a building that meets those needs.  We will be seeing our first initial estimate for the design in late January or early February and then working to launch public forums and various feedback loops at that time that will extend throughout the course of the winter and spring of 2019. 

Additionally, we know that we need to find a way to offset local taxpayer costs for this project so we have been building the foundations for a capital campaign for the athletic portions of this work.  We are poised to do a "soft launch" of the capital campaign focused on information sharing in January and February with a goal of trying to raise approximately 20% of the athletic fields costs through community wide fundraising efforts.

As you can see, there is A LOT going on within the Gorham Schools regarding this project, and things will get even more hectic starting very soon.  Even with all this work, however, we are committed to making sure that appropriate time is taken so that the community of Gorham has a strong voice in this project.  We are committed to finding the balance needed between meeting the educational needs of our high school students for the next 30-40 years and doing so in a way that is sustainable and fiscally responsible for the community of Gorham.  We NEED YOUR VOICES to help make sure we meet this commitment! 

If you have questions, concerns or comments, please do not hesitate to reach out to me and ask them.  My email address is heather.perry@gorhamschools.org. 

Thank you!




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