Schoharie school officials are planning a nearly $20 million project at the junior and senior high school in what would amount to the biggest renovation in the school’s 90-year history.
The capital project—which district officials are hoping to take to voters for approval in May — would address millions of dollars in needed structural repairs, while also expanding the size of classrooms, improving handicap accessibility and organizing rooms by grade level and subject. Schoharie Superintendent David Blanchard said he thinks the project can be completed for less than $20 million.
The work would be wholly focused on the district’s 7th through 12th grade building, which was originally constructed in 1926 and upgraded most recently in 1999 and 2004.
“The building is very historic and needs to stay in the school district,” Blanchard said. “The structure is good, which gives us a great opportunity to keep it in tact and make enhancements to bring it up to current educational standards.”
With the district’s 80 percent reimbursement rate through the state and expiring debt coming off the books, Blanchard said the project could be completed with a “very minimal” tax impact to residents.
“People will be pleasantly surprised with the local impact and how small we can keep it,” he said.
None of those past projects come close to the amount of work envisioned in the proposed effort, which could still change as district officials begin to work out the details with the help of community groups and district residents. But the need for an upgrade is undeniable, Blanchard said. Parts of the concrete parapets are windowsills are beginning to deteriorate, risking falling concrete. Just before the start of the school year, the district had to replace the entire floor in a science room after water seeping in from the outside caused major rot damage. The electrical, heating and intercom systems all need upgrades; the building has $5 million in needed infrastructure repairs alone, according to a recent building condition survey conducted by engineers and architects.
“Looking at a building built in the 1920s, you have to ask how often will we have these kinds of repairs and at what cost before we do a major upgrade?” Blanchard said.
And Blanchard said the school is indeed of upgrading and enlarging classrooms and rearranging the layout in a more logical way by grouping seventh and eighth graders into their own wings and having science classes near sciences classes and social studies classes near social studies classes.
If approved by voters, construction would potentially start in spring 2017 and take around 18 months to complete. Beginning on the ground floor, the project calls for converting an inaccessible crawl space into a full hallway and turning the basement level into a full hall with the school’s career and technical classes in a central location.
The classroom housing the school’s future farmers of America program would go from 412 square feet to over 1,400 square feet, under the plan. A computer room and health room on that floor would be combined to create an art room nearly 1,200 square feet big.
Rooms would also be enlarged on the school’s first floor, where seventh grade classes would be focused. Now, a wing of rooms are unequally sized, with some rooms too small for the needs of a modern class striving to engage student in collaborative projects.
The plan also calls for building into a courtyard space Blanchard said doesn’t get much use, creating more building space for classrooms and a multi-use conference room that could be used for school-wide training or other events.
The front entrance to the school and main office would move to where the existing library is. The library would move to where the main entrance is, taking advantage of a tall glass entrance as a closed-off architectural feature.
Blanchard is in his second year as superintendent and said it didn’t take long before he realized the building would need an upgrade.
“I was here for two month and a student said to me, ‘Your Mr. Blanchard? Your the new superintendent right? You know this place is a dump?’” he said of an early encounter with a student. “‘It’s a dump, Mr. Blanchard. You’re the superintendent and what are you going to do about it?’ That was a powerful statement; the students deserve a school they can come to and feel they can learn at.”