SULLIVAN — Details, details.
Officials in Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24) are hammering out the specifics of plans for the new high school/middle school that will replace Sumner Memorial High School. When it comes to designing a new school, details such as storage space and placement of equipment can be as important as the overall design of the building.
In June, voters in RSU 24 approved a $44-million project to replace the existing high school with a new building for both high and middle school students. Construction is expected to start in July 2020. The site of the new school is behind the current Sumner building.
The new school, which will accommodate up to 500 students, is proposed to be 105,342 square feet. The two-story building would house 26 general classrooms, five science classrooms, 13 collaboration rooms, three industrial arts classrooms, an enclosed open-air courtyard, a high school gym along with a separate middle school gym, a learning commons and a performance space with a stage and a cafeteria and kitchen. The middle school classrooms and collaboration rooms will be located on the second floor.
The RSU 24 Building Committee met with the project architect Oct. 9 in an ongoing effort to work out the details, which range from the size and type of storage in classrooms to making sure doorways and hallways are big enough to accommodate moving portable bleachers.
“Nothing would be worse than to get the building built and the bleachers installed and then they can’t be moved,” said Kathy Cogan, project manager with CHA Architecture of Portland, formerly PDT Architects.
Cogan made a presentation of interior designs for the classrooms, gymnasium and kitchen and cafeteria. As she did so, she mentioned changes proposed as the result of conversations with high school staff, including custodians, teachers and kitchen staff.
“She’s asked a lot of questions of the staff,” said Superintendent Michael Eastman. “It was a good conversation. They talked about everything from flooring to storage.”
“Those kinds of conversations are very important to us,” Cogan said. “It was really a terrific day.”
One of the conversations with staff centered around how gymnasium locker rooms actually get used.
“Showers don’t get used that much,” Cogan said, adding the locker room design will be updated to include fewer showers.
In the cafeteria, the design includes tables of varying sizes.
“The idea is that all of these tables would be flip-top tables so they could be moved,” she said. Chairs would be stackable. “You can reconfigure the space for things like a banquet dinner.”
The cafeteria design also includes a row of booths. The committee talked about whether the booths should be removable for cleaning purposes.
“We can look at removable booths,” Cogan said.
In response to a question, Cogan said the kitchen won’t be designed solely for reheating food. Instead, it will include cooking facilities and food prep space.
“We’ve assumed that there’s actual cooking that’s happening there,” she said,
Cogan said the architecture firm will not decide what items to buy for the new school.
Department heads will submit a wish list of what they think they need. These lists could include everything from an ice cube maker for the kitchen to storage for crutches in the nurses’ station.
School officials will go over the list, deciding what needs to be purchased and what, if anything, from the existing school can be reused, such as a relatively new pottery kiln. Many items aren’t suitable for use in the new school, however. Some furniture is too heavy to move and some chairs can’t be stacked to make room for other functions.
Ultimately, available funds will limit such purchases.
“The reaction is always, ‘we need everything,’ but that’s not realistic,” Cogan said.
The committee also discussed the exterior design. Cogan brought samples of different colors of brick and metal panels which give the illusion of texture by creating shadows on raised and lowered surfaces.
One committee member suggested considering wood or some other material designed to look like wood to create texture.
“We can put together a couple of sample palettes,” she said.
When someone asked about using school colors, Cogan said they are typically used in places such as the gym. Other locations in the school will feature subtle color differences in order to differentiate them. For example, science classrooms may include a yellow not found in other classrooms.
“It gives identity to the different parts of the building,” she said.
In anticipation of the expected start of construction in July 2020, Athletic Director Rick Dube is busy working on contingency plans for next year’s outdoor athletics programs, Eastman said.
The existing cross-country course was used for the last time Oct. 11 for the Hancock County Championships. Beyond that, which sports will be affected depends on where the construction entrance will be located. The architect is working with the town of Sullivan to evaluate potential locations, including Punkinville Road. Another option is to demolish the house in front of the school — which the district recently purchased — and put the construction entrance there.
“Our soccer games might have to be double away games or on neutral fields at one of our [other] schools,” Eastman said.
Design development is expected to be complete in December with construction documents prepared by April 2020 and submitted to the state Board of Education in May, Eastman said. Approval is expected by May 20 with the project going out to bid in late June.
The committee assigned to come up with a name for the new school held its first meeting Oct. 22.