Architects offer ideas for building high school in phases
Representatives from four architectural firms offered several ideas for building a new Woodford County High School in phases during follow-up presentations to the local Board of Education last Wednesday, March 13. Their ideas were based on a premise of building the initial phase of a new high school for $30 million. The total cost of constructing a 1,400-student high school has been estimated at around $46 million or more. The district has a current bonding (borrowing) potential of about $34 million for school construction projects. To build an initial phase of a new high school for a total of $31.1 million, Margie Jacobs of Tate Hill Jacobs Architects (the school district’s current architect) said one option would include not building a competitive gym, career and technical education spaces, or a kitchen until later. “I see it done all over the state where food’s catered out of one kitchen to multiple sites,” said Jacobs. “Maybe we consider that? I don’t know. You need to tell me…” The initial phase would include an auditorium/theater with this and other proposed options. Designing flexible space in classrooms to support different learning styles, while maximizing the use of corridors and hallways as active learning environments may reduce the need (and cost) of adding square-footage in a high school project, said Brian Buckner of RossTarrant Architects. Such innovative learning opportunities for common areas would provide a way to reduce the size of classrooms and eliminate computer labs while also using common areas of the building for library and cafeteria spaces, according to Buckner and Ron Murrell of RossTarrant. Murrell said a $30 million budget for the initial phase of the project might include construction of an auxiliary gym for physical education classes and practices rather than a more costly competitive gym. Career and technical education classroom spaces would not be constructed during the initial $30 million phase with this option. Those spaces and a competitive gym would come in subsequent phases, he said. A three-story high school building would reduce the cost of foundations and roofs, David Samokar of Clotfelter/Samokar said. “It is a more energy efficient, compact size (of 173,400 square feet rather than 181,420 square feet)… Also, it would use less space on the (61 acre) site – leaving more (of that) site available for future development,” he added. Possible cost-savings include using one science lab for two classrooms and staggering classrooms to shorten corridor space that could then be used for collaborative learning, said Samokar. He said a library/media center could initially be designed to house career and technical education (CTE) programs such as media graphics. A 124,000 square-foot high school in an initial phase using this idea would not include a competitive gym, auditorium, cafeteria or CTE space, Samokar said. If the district chose not to include a kitchen in phase one, he recommended a shell of a kitchen (because of its mechanical systems) be a part of the initial construction phase. “It’s much easier to come back and add something in than it is to add something on,” said Samokar. One of the opportunities to design a more efficient building of 128,478 square feet during the initial phase involves using flexible spaces with fewer halls and corridors to reduce cost, said Kenny Stanfield of Sherman Carter Barnhart Architects. In addition to reducing construction costs with an efficient design, Stanfield said a new high school could include 12 flex labs (with a variety of uses) and four media center hubs in parts of the building (rather than a full-blown library) to reduce square footage and cost. An auxiliary gym would also be used as the school’s cafeteria prior to its construction in a subsequent phase, he later told board members. Stanfield said his firm has a track record of not spending a project’s contingency on change orders so those dollars can be used to upgrade interior finishes or pay for subsequent construction phases such as a 2,000-spectator gym and an auditorium. “That’s what our focus is,” said Stanfield, “is how can you be innovative and design it so that we’re not building as much in wasted space. … You can have a ton of circulation that’s unnecessary just because of the way you lay the building out.” He said efficient design would create savings to allow the project to include medium grade finishes comparable to other high schools. Jacobs said dollars can be saved by using less-expensive floor finishes, but she recommended board members build a new high school they want for the long term “and then come back and finish it (during subsequent phases of construction).” The cost of maintaining less-expensive floor finishes such as vinyl composition tile are much higher than more-expensive flooring such as quarry tile and terrazzo, board members were told by the architects. “Part of our job is to inform you as to what things cost,” said Samokar. “You may want the cheapest HVAC system going in, but it may be very expensive to operate on a yearly basis.” He said options for interior finishes “are literally endless.” Cost-savings for energy efficiency was also discussed during each presentation. Jacobs talked about orienting the school building to reduce electrical costs by minimizing artificial lighting and using insulated concrete form structures for an airtight exterior. Jacobs pointed out that Lexington’s Frederick Douglass High School (built in 2017), which her firm designed, has been identified as the most energy-efficient high school in Kentucky. Regardless of the direction taken to reduce costs, Samokar said the district must include the required storm shelter during the initial phase of the high school project. FEMA grants are out there to reduce a storm shelter’s cost, said Stanfield. A timetable for designing and constructing a 1,400-student high school project would take two-plus years to complete, according to the architects. With many uncertainties in the global economy and international trade, Jacobs told board members that she has no idea if construction costs will rise or fall in the coming years. It’s important for school board members to understand “there is no magic pixie dust” that allows any architect to guarantee the cost of a project because construction bids may come in higher or lower than anticipated, said Kevin Locke, of RossTarrant. He and other representatives of the architectural firms stressed the importance of inviting teachers, students and other stakeholders to have a voice in the process of choosing what the community wants in a new Woodford County High School. Because Woodford County Public Schools has agreements to use outdoor athletic fields at the County Park, baseball, softball and football fields are not being considered for the initial phase of a new Woodford County High School. The board’s regular meeting agenda on Monday, March 25, at Southside Elementary includes an action item to discuss and select an architect.