“It will be a new middle school, but it will be familiar looking because you’ll have the old gym as a kind of an anchor on the one end of it,” said Todd Wilder, coordinator of support services for Park County School District No. 1.
The school will be located on the same campus as the current building, and older sections eventually will be demolished once the new construction is finished. The gym is the only existing structure that will remain, and it will undergo significant renovations.
Encompassing roughly 58,000 square feet of new construction, work on the next phase may begin later this month. Groathouse Construction’s bid of $16,359,446 was unanimously approved by the Park County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees on March 25. The Wyoming School Facilities Department signed the contract for the project this week.
The new building will feature separate classroom wings or “houses” for sixth, seventh and eighth grades, each with modern and unique colors and design aspects. Phase I, completed in 2012, will become the center of the school, with most of the new construction occurring on the east side.
With features like a sundial tower, art patio, indoor/outdoor Davinci science lab and outdoor amphitheater, the new school won’t resemble any others in the district — or even in the Big Horn Basin.
“I am so excited about what this will add to the community,” said Jason Sleep, the middle school principal. “The aesthetic will be pretty amazing.”
Wilder said that the school district is really proud of the new middle school’s design.
“We think it’s probably going to be one of the finest middle school facilities in the state when it’s done,” Wilder said. “We appreciate all the community involvement we had as we were going through the concept and design.”
Powell school officials have known a new middle school project was on the horizon for the past decade, but it hinged on funding from the state, as well as the completion of the first phase.
“In this 10-year story for the middle school, it became more complex than just a single building,” Wilder said.
The middle school facility was tied to the old high school complex, with students sharing the high school’s cafeteria and home ec cottage.
“We had kids crossing the streets all the time,” Wilder said. Students crossed Third Street, a busy thoroughfare in the city that was partially blocked off.
“There’s just a lot of safety concerns about kids leaving a school campus and going across the street,” Wilder said.
The first phase of the middle school project in 2012 added a new cafeteria, family and consumer science lab and career and vocational room. That allowed middle school students to stay on campus.
The next phase of the project will take more than two years to finish.
Phase II of the project will focus on building new classroom wings, to be completed by the end of May 2015. Construction will occur over the coming year, so students will attend classes in the old sections while the new school is being built nearby.
“The biggest thing about this whole project is student safety,” Wilder said. “Every decision we make is going to be based on student safety. We’re going to be looking at that all the time with the work that’s going on ... how do we integrate construction work so it doesn’t impact education?”
Demolition of the old two-story classroom sections will occur during the summer of 2015, when students aren’t on campus. The gym must be reinforced so it can stand on its own while the new section is being added.
“Demo goes really fast,” Wilder said. “The part they have to be careful with is where it touches the gym.”
The gym will be renovated in the summer of 2015. The existing track, field and bleachers to the east of the gym will remain in place.
The schedule calls for the new classroom wings to open to students in the fall of 2015. Kids will continue to use the gym as well as the old one-story section on the school’s west side for art, band and choir classes during the 2015-16 school year. During that time, a temporary covered walkway will allow students to walk safely to the gym and old one-story section for classes.
Meanwhile, crews will be building a new south-end wing for art, band and choir classes during 2015-16. A new parking lot also will be constructed at that time. Once that construction is completed in May 2016, the old one-story wing will be demolished in the summer of 2016, again when kids are not on campus.
Remaining landscaping, renovations and site finish work will then wrap up, with a target completion date of the fall of 2016.
While phased construction takes longer and can cause more logistical headaches, Sleep said it’s worth it to stay in the current location instead of at a different site.
“We want to connect with downtown. We’re close enough. That’s what we fought for — we didn’t want to go to a different location,” Sleep said.
He said he’s excited about the possibility of hosting community events at the school’s indoor/outdoor art patio and inviting guest speakers from local businesses to speak to classes. The school will have a new area for presentations or performances, with stairs that double as seats.
“The phasing does create a bit of a headache, but to be able to stay here, I think it’s worth it,” Sleep said.
In with the new
Now that the school district enters into the next phase of construction, Sleep said he is looking forward to everything the modern facility will offer.
The old middle school has an institutional feeling, he said. The new middle school will have modern aesthetic features and a unified design throughout the classroom wings and common areas.
“For the community, this feels really intentional. Middle school kids need to know that they count, too, in our community,” Sleep said. “It’s so important that these kids get that world-class education all the way through. Let’s not lose three years if we can help it.”
The old middle school, with original structure from the 1930s additions from the 1950s and 1980s, is starting to fail.
“When you get that old, you start having issues with maybe not so much the structure as you do with the mechanical, plumbing and electrical components,” Wilder said.
Flooring has moved over time and ripples on the second story. Roofing is always a concern with an aging building, he said.
“One of the big things that’s always been an issue for those older sections is seismic stability,” Wilder said. “That’s a really significant consideration by the state. They have actually gone in and replaced buildings for seismic considerations alone.”
When the Wyoming School Facilities Department evaluates a school, its rubric takes into account various elements of the facility, including education suitability, Wilder said.
In the old middle school, classrooms are small and aging, with poor lighting and exposed wire molding, he said.
“It’s very difficult to upgrade them for technology,” Wilder said.
The new middle school will have wireless Internet access throughout the building and allow teachers and students to use the latest technology.
“Everything is connected, not just in the classrooms, but in the common areas as well,” Sleep said.
Low bids received
The school district received four bids for Phase II, all within a relatively small range.
“This represents good competitive bidding and good verification that the low bid is not irresponsible,” wrote Karen Kelly, project manger with CTA Architects Engineers, in a letter to the district.
Ascent Construction of Utah actually submitted the lowest bid at $15.8 million, but lost out because it is not a Wyoming company. State law requires major public projects to go to the lowest Wyoming bidder if they’re within 5 percent of the lowest out-of-state company. Groathouse’s bid was within 3.4 percent ($535,646 higher) than Ascent’s.
Other bids received include GH Phipps at $16,730,000 and Sletten Construction at $17,202,800.
“The bids were just exceptional for this,” Wilder said.
Overall, the low bid was $1.5 million under what the construction estimate was, Wilder said.
On Tuesday night, the Board of Trustees unanimously approved a bid for materials testing and inspection services to Engineering Associates of Powell. The bid was $118,235 for services on the Phase II project at the middle school and $14,905 for services related to the old Powell High School demolition and renovation of the Support Services Building.
It was the only bid received and below the budgeted amount, Wilder said.