Thursday, February 7, 2002

Cape planning $5-million-plus school renovations

Published in the Current

The Cape Elizabeth School Board and Town Council officially discussed for the first time this past week the construction and renovation projects slated for the town’s schools – a project estimated to cost between $5 and $6 million.

Councilors will be asked to approve a plan that would have working beginning at both Pond Cove and the high school in the summer of 2003.

And though funds have yet to be approved, and plans are not yet even in draft form, architect Bob Howe, of HKTA in Portland, has been visiting the Cape Elizabeth schools to explore the buildings and learn from school staff about issues that should be addressed during the renovation.

The school renovation has as its ultimate goal the grouping of grades together, with kindergarten through fourth grade at Pond Cove, fifth through eighth grades at the Middle School, and grades nine through 12 at the high school, Howe said.

Right now, the kindergarten is in the high school, occupying space that will be needed in coming years. To keep the grades together in the future, Howe said, the kindergarten needs a new home.

“That has a domino effect,” Howe said. More classroom space is needed at Pond Cove to accommodate the kindergarten, and additional renovations will
be done to the high school as well. At minimum, the classrooms now serving the kindergarten will need to be updated for teaching high school students.

Howe and Marie Prager, a member of the School Board and chair of its Building Committee, said it is about time for the 33-year-old school building to be renovated anyway, though it appears to be in good shape for its age.

Howe is talking to teachers and administrators at the high school to learn about their concerns and recommendations for the work.

During a recent walk-through at the high school, Howe said there are some basic issues, like making sure windows don’t leak.

And there is definitely a need for improvements to the science classrooms, including adding another physics classroom, so the school will have two.

The existing science classrooms need to be reconfigured and have better access to sinks and other facilities for lab work, as well as being adaptable for use as lecture space.

But in other areas of the school, some teachers are fine with the space they have, while others want more space or a different configuration. The language teachers, for example, are happy with the amount of space they have, but would prefer it not be split across two floors of the school, Howe said.

There is also need for at least one additional computer room, Howe said, and some teachers have asked him for a space for students to congregate.

Other requests have included space for one-on-one work and small group activities, Howe said.

And some issues are related to changes in educational methods since the school was built. For example, the cafeteria was built to handle fewer students at one time than are currently using the room. To provide a nicer eating place without significant changes to the class schedule will require a larger cafeteria, Howe said.

“Students are eating in the halls,” he said.

The music stage and gym floor are also getting examined. The gym can only be sanded once more before the floor needs to be replaced. And the wood is laid directly on concrete.

“It’s hard on players’ legs,” Howe said. But a replacement floor would raise the floor level about three inches, causing problems at the gym doors. Locker rooms, too, need work, with better ventilation and aesthetic improvements that would make people more likely to use them, Howe said.

The front entry to the high school also needs attention. The slope from the parking lot up to the doors is steeper than the Maine Human Rights Act allows. That act adopts the standards of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act for buildings in Maine, Howe said.

Parking on the site is an issue as well, Howe and Prager said. One possible location for additional parking spaces is the flat grassy area behind the building, which is now used informally for extra parking, especially for sporting events.

The building’s infrastructure also needs attention, though fortunately not much of the major systems. “If we had to redo the entire mechanical systems in here, I don’t think the town could afford it,” Howe said.

But some updating of the air circulation system and additional plumbing may be needed, as well as telecommunications wiring, to put phones in each classroom, for example.

Prager stressed that this process is just beginning. After Howe has met with the groups at the high school, he will report to the Building Committee, which will work with him to figure out what work needs to be done and sort out priorities and costs for the projects.

Also in the early planning phase is the Pond Cove construction. The work at the two schools is expected to cost between $5 million and $6 million, Prager said. A final figure should be available by the end of the school year, she said.