Thursday, November 7, 2019

Update on GHS Building Project and Other "Odds-n-Ends" To Share

Good afternoon everyone.  Hard to believe we are going to be honoring our Veterans this coming week and then celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends shortly thereafter.  This school year is certainly going by quickly with much to celebrate!

Recently I've been hearing a lot of questions regarding our GHS building project and where things stand on this complex and important issue for the community of Gorham.  I've heard some speculate that the project "is dead".  I've heard some speculate that the school committee and town need to "go back to the drawing board," and I've heard others question why they didn't see something on the most recent November ballot.  I've even seen some recent signs around the municipal center saying "Save Robie Park".  I thought with all these questions and thoughts swirling it might be a good idea to get a comprehensive overview out there for folks on the topic of the GHS building project.

As is usual, I'll include a few more topics on this blog post than just an update on the GHS project.  Rest assured that I'll use clear and bolded headings so people can skim through, skip what your not interested in and dive more deeply into those things you are.  Here goes!

Update on GHS Building Project

First, and foremost it is important to know that we are keeping our website up to date with comprehensive information on this work - so if your questions aren't answered via this blog...then please CLICK HERE to learn more!

At this point in time, the GHS Building Committee has come to consensus on which concept design option (of the options discussed mind you) they are recommending to the Gorham School Committee to move forward with, if (and that is a big IF) the Gorham School Committee were to decide to move forward with this specific project.  Now if that isn't vague...what is right?  Well, allow me to give a little history in an effort to be more clear...

Three years ago now, the Gorham School Committee, in collaboration with the Gorham Town Council concluded a feasibility study regarding several options that both groups wanted to explore.  This feasibility study was conducted by Oak Point Associates out of Biddeford, ME.  They studied three basic "options" to see which one might be the best match and the most efficient way to address our growing issues regarding overcrowding of the school and overall growth within the community.  Those three options were:

-  Building a brand new high school
-  "Flip-Flopping" the high school with the Middle School
-  Renovating the existing GHS building on the existing site

I won't go into too many details (If you want the details please CLICK HERE to view the study) but suffice it to say that the least expensive option was clearly to renovate the existing GHS building on the existing site.  So in the fall of 2017, we worked with the Town Council and hired on Harriman Architects to help us create a concept design that would do that very thing.  Since the Fall of 2017 that is exactly what the GHS building committee has been doing.  They have not considered other options because that was not the task given to them.  The task given to them was to develop the best concept design that met the programmatic needs of our growing high school as efficiently as possible on the existing site.  Now, along the way we've had some great public forums and opportunities to talk to students, staff, and community members broadly to hear thoughts/concerns and to work within the constraints of our purpose to develop that best design.  During this process, we have heard thoughts/ideas such as:

-  "Wouldn't it be cheaper to build a brand new high school?"
-  "Why can't we use the municipal building as an "annex" to the high school and build a new municipal building?"
-  "Why can't we build a new high school off-site and then move one of the elementary schools into the high school and avoid having to build a new elementary school?"

And more... And please know that although we have not acted on those ideas - YET - we certainly haven't dismissed them.  But, we had a specific task to complete and that was the goal of this phase of the work.  The task was to develop the best concept design that met the programmatic needs of our growing high school as efficiently as possible on the existing site. This is what we believe we have accomplished, at least to the best of our ability.

That "best option" is what those of us on the GHS building committee fondly call "Option 6" - and yes, that means there were 5 other full-fledged concept designs built before we got to this one. 

Option 6 has us constructing common spaces within the GHS building for 1100 students to meet our growth projections because these are the hardest spaces to try and "go back" to add to later.  It adds a new classroom wing along Morrill Avenue that, in conjunction with other renovations, would allow us enough classroom spaces for 950 students with a specific design that would allow us to add 6-8 additional classrooms onto this wing for very little cost moving forward.  Option 6 keeps Access Road open (an earlier version had us closing Access road down and moving all traffic to Ball Park which was not well received) and Option 6 has us using only a very small portion of Robie Park for us to move tennis courts onto which we felt was a strong alignment of use with the park's original intent.

As always, I think pictures are worth 1000 words...so here you go...the "Option 6" site plan looks like this:

Overall Site Concept Design Plan

As you can see, things are jammed in there pretty tightly, but it all works and it even adds 161 new parking spaces to boot!  In order to see how we've addressed other needs, you have to look more at the details.  For example, when you look below at the first floor layout you can quickly see how we addressed the safety needs of one main entrance, how we addressed the needs of having to add a second gym space for PE classes, you can see how we addressed the need to expand the cafeteria, to make many of our classroom spaces larger and to add in much needed choral and art spaces.

First Floor Concept Design

All told, this concept design allows for 35 regular education classrooms, additions of 2 new science rooms, 1 art room, 1 choral room, additional special education spaces, and updated technology spaces.  Below is a picture of the second story where you get a slightly better sense of additional science spaces, and some of the additional mechanical spaces which will also be upgraded.

Second Floor Concept Design

All in all, the design is nothing special, and it certainly is no "palace"...but it does meet the programmatic needs of our high school now and into the future and it invests in a building this community has already invested in time and time again.  

Because we are also preparing to launch a capital athletic campaign called the "Gorham Pride" campaign, we have also gone so far as to create artist's illustrations of what the new athletic fields and the new building with this option 6 design might look like.  I think when you see it, you will see that what we are looking to do in this design is really nothing "over the top"...it is nice, and it meets our needs for sure.  It is utilitarian, but definitely not cosmopolitan! ☺  Here's a better look:

Artist Rendition #1 - Elevated View


Here is another view from a slightly different angle...

Artist Rendition #2 - Athletic Field View


Of course, here comes the problem...this design, as utilitarian as it is, is still estimated to cost almost $72 million dollars.  Now, I come from Washington County...and I KNOW that is A LOT to ask local taxpayers to pay for.  But I also know that the community of Gorham is pretty much stuck (as my father used to say) "between a rock and a hard place" and something must be done to address the current needs at GHS and the overall needs of our growing community.  The overall question remains NOT whether we should do something to address facilities needs at GHS and facilities needs across our growing school populations, but WHAT we should do.  Not an easy question to answer for sure...but one that the work outlined above at least provides specific detail and insight into helping the school committee to do that very thing.  This is a heck of a lot further than we have gotten in this conversation so far and this conversation actually started over 10 years ago now!

Next Steps for the School Committee:

The School Committee will meet again on November 20.  At this meeting, they will review option #6 again to be sure they are clear on what the design accomplishes and that it does indeed meet the programmatic needs of our students.  They will then review the list that they tasked our facilities director (Norm Justice) and I to create at the last meeting.  This list is an estimated list of facilities needs in the following categories for the next 10-15 years across ALL SCHOOL FACILITIES:

-  Roofing
-  Mechanical/HVAC
-  Electrical
-  Site
-  Security
-  Plumbing
-  Finishes
-  Building Envelope
-  Code requirements

That list will provide the all-important context for the next item for discussion.  What does the School Committee want to do next?  Options could be as follows, but certainly, it is the School Committee that will ultimately determine which ones to consider...

1.  Move forward to Town Council to request that the Option 6 concept design be placed on an upcoming referendum for public vote.
2.  Request the GHS Building Committee to go back to the Option 6 design and determine what items (specific programs) would need to be reduced from the scope of work in order to meet a specific spending target - for example:  What would we have to lose to get the costs down to $60 million?  $50 million, etc. and then once this is determined meet again to determine next steps.
3.  Do nothing, which really isn't an option because we know the growth is coming and SOMETHING must be done.
4.  Decide to "scrap" this work for our "on existing site option" and go back to the drawing board to research other possibilities such as designs for a new school off-site or designs for use of the municipal building.
5.  Request to work with the Town Council to jointly hire a contracted service provider to come in to do a comprehensive facilities study of all Town and School facilities and to create a priority list of items and associated costs that need to be addressed along with a realistic time frame for doing so that can be adopted by both boards and followed (P.S. - this was done about 15 years ago and resulted in some really good collaborative work).
6.  Develop a plan for modular expansion project similar to Narr. Elementary School project but one that would require either the full use of Robie Park, or the movement of athletic fields off-site.
7.  Decide to conduct a comprehensive public information series to gather feedback from community members to better understand what the community feels we should do moving forward before "turning the wheel" in any further direction.

All in all, I hope folks understand that the ongoing work of the building committee has been very fruitful and has put us in a position where we now thoroughly understand what our needs are and the positives and negatives of addressing them through the renovation of the building "on-site".  This is a complex issue for the School Committee and for our community to wrestle with.  We have filled in some very important information "gaps" through the most recent work resulting in our "option 6" design.  The GHS building committee has accomplished the task set out for them.  It is now up to the School Committee, in collaboration with the Town Council to determine the best "next steps".  

Luckily we have time to do this important work...but to be clear, that time is not "unlimited".

If you have specific thoughts about the GHS building project, please reach out to me at heather.perry@gorhamschools.org and I will be sure to share those thoughts with the School Committee.

OTHER QUICK  ITEMS OF NOTE

Narragansett Modular Expansion Project

The modular project is moving right along on schedule.  We will be receiving delivery of the first two modular spaces tomorrow (Thursday, 11/7) that will be used to construct the planned cafeteria space.  Additional modulars will be delivered to a site set aside at GMS, and will then be moved from there to Narragansett when needed.  This may cause some disruption for staff parking in the parking lot next to Narragansett School in front of the playground, but we hope to prevent disruption for parents who are parking to pick up and drop off students in the morning and afternoons.  

Mrs. Remick will be communicating to staff and parents when deliveries are planned so we appreciate the flexibility of folks in advance as these deliveries occur.

K-5 Attendance Zone Changes for 2020-2021

New attendance zones were announced at the end of October.  We are currently working to identify staffing for this change.  Once we have identified staffing, we will communicate those changes first to the staff who are involved and then to the public in the form of announcing grade-level teams across all three schools for the 2020-21 school year.  Once this is done we can begin in earnest more specific and targeted transition activities for families.  Additionally, these staffing assignments will be used to identify budget development processes and needs in lots of other areas such as Allied Arts, support services such as learning labs or resource room needs, etc.  

I want to take a minute while on this subject to simply say publicly that I have been so thoroughly impressed at the level of thought and care that that has been taken by our staff towards impacted families during this initial informational period.  I have also been thoroughly impressed with the families that are impacted by this change.  Every single conversation that has been had has been focused on open and honest communication, provision of necessary supports, and how we can help one another to make this necessary move as positive as possible.  

I shouldn't be surprised because this is - after all - Gorham, but as with all other difficult times...the community as a whole has simply reached out, extended open arms to one another and are working diligently to support one another as whole families and as whole communities.  I have been a part of these kinds of shifts in previous districts and have never seen it so well done by all involved.  I guess it really is true as Roland Barth said:  "What comes out of you when you are squeezed is what is inside of you."  Gotta LOVE what is inside of the community of Gorham!

Honoring Diversity and Difference

The Code of Conduct has been a very strong and valuable tool here in Gorham for many years and it continues to be so.  However, as our community grows and changes it is likely time for us to really spend some quality time thinking about how these changes impact our schools, our school cultures, and the overall learning experience for all our students using the lens of diversity and difference.  We take our relationships very seriously here in Gorham and we absolutely work hard to support and love everyone but there is always room to grow in our understandings of each other.  Our relationships are worth working on...and that is what we will endeavor to do so that we ensure they remain strong and vibrant.

As a means to this end, the Gorham Schools has entered into a contract with the Maine Intercultural Communication Consultants in what will be a two year partnership focused on first helping our staff, and then our students and then the greater community to better understand what it means to create a truly inclusive environment for our students.  An environment free of bias and one where positive relationships with all students and families reign.

We are taking this important work slowly, mostly because we know this is not a "one time", "sit and get" kind of training or conversation with folks.  We want to first identify where our areas of challenge may be and then we want to use these initial conversations to learn more about how to deal with issues of diversity and difference appropriately in an educational setting.  Then we want to put these new learnings into action for our students and the greater community.  

I am a strong believer in "starting at the top" for these important conversations so the first phase of the work will begin this month with our District Leadership Team.  Once this team has been trained, we will then branch out this spring to work with GMS and GHS staff and then to K-5 staff next fall.  Once all our staff has been provided this important training and time to learn and understand the complexities of this topic, we will then begin working holistically with students, families and the community using our student's very own voice to help "light the way" forward.

More information will be forthcoming in school level communications.  I just wanted you all to be aware we are embarking upon this journey together - a very important journey indeed!

Well, this post is way too long already.  I will stop here.  As always, please reach out to me with any concerns, questions, or comments.  You can always reach me via email at heather.perry@gorhamschools.org.  

Thank you for "blogging" with me once again...til next time! ☺










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