Friday, April 29, 2005
CCHS Feasibility Committee tours two new regional high schools
The Concord-Carlisle High School Feasibility Study Committee toured Lincoln-Sudbury (L-S) and Hudson High Schools (HHS) to get a feel for what new schools are like and hear what top administrators had to say about them.
The two schools are quite different. L-S is three to four stories high with very large skylights. The corridors under these skylights open up to balconies on each floor so the light can penetrate down. The corridors are wide and airy. The school is fully air conditioned. Hudson High School has two stories, narrower corridors and limited skylights but each classroom is large, with ample storage and light. Only parts of this building are air-conditioned.
L-S: $73.4 million, 62% reimbursement, 1,850 students
L-S Superintendent Dr. John Ritchie was faced with an overcrowded school. The old L-S was a one-story building with a sprawling campus that was completed in 1956. Ritchie said they could have added ten to twelve classrooms for $18 million, but if they wanted to be reimbursed by the state, they had to fix everything else that was wrong, such as the major systems in the building. That would have cost $27 million. "The building was a wreck. Renovating would be an inefficient way to use those dollars," commented Ritchie. The building would look the same, with a new roof, some new pipes, which no one sees, and "we would have spent $27 million with nothing to show for it but a few new classrooms." He said that one of the most compelling arguments for a new school was that everything would be brand new, nothing will break and the kids would be outfitted for years."
An aggressive campaign was launched in town by a set of townspeople. The new high school, built to serve an estimated 1,850 students, is 36% larger than the old building. It opened last September and cost $73.9 million, with a 62% reimbursement from the state. The projected CCHS student population is 1,350.
HHS: $45 million, 70% reimbursement, 1,200 students
Hudson High School (HHS) houses 1,200 students, grades 8 through 12. It was built for roughly $45 million with a 70% reimbursement from the state and a large grant from Intel Corporation. Principal John Stapelfeld said a lot of thought went into the design of the school; there was a focus on the needs of the community. He wanted a building 10% larger, but they needed to shrink it to stay within budget. The classrooms and science labs became smaller. Everyone would have liked more storage space.
CCHS Principal Art Dulong commented that the layout of the public spaces in HHS was very well done. "There's a clear integration of space," he said. Its entrance is U-shaped. The administrative offices are right next to the front door. The cafeteria looks out on to the courtyard formed by the U-shape of the building. The library, on the second floor, sits behind the cafeteria and has windows that look down on the cafeteria and out the back of the building, giving the space lots of light. The gymnasium is off the cafeteria.
The public spaces are all together so the rest of the building can be gated off during community events when school is not in session. Committee member and Police Chief Leonard Wetherbee liked this aspect. Dulong liked the location of the cafeteria and added "[You can] float easily into the library and the gym. There's good flow there." Karen Sabatino reflected, "I loved the sense of community that I got walking through the front doors. I felt like it was safe, comfortable and a place where people connect." Its lower ceilings, multi-colored tiled floors and lockers make for a welcoming atmosphere. By contrast, L-S is all beige inside.
The stairways at HHS are at the end of long corridors which are narrower than those at L-S. The group observed some bottlenecks when classes let out.
Comparing the schools
It was interesting to see the contrasts between the two schools. Several committee members liked the use of natural light, the wide corridors and airiness at L-S. But Sabatino felt "the cavernous spaces, tremendous ceilings and four-floor drops to open spaces made the facility seem institutional and antiseptic. I felt like I was in a hospital or bio-tech research facility." Wetherbee, saw it differently. "I worry about safety around those four-story balconies. [Someday] we're going to read about a tragedy. It's very open."
There are places for students to hang out by the stairwells at L-S. Dulong said, "I like these gathering spots." Sabatino was not as pleased. "The building doesn't lend itself to any natural gathering spots where people share a sense of community," she commented. "The many small gathering places, the alcoves, small carpeted areas in the hallways, encourage small groups to mark their territory and spend their free time in that one spot."
The openness of L-S, its wide corridors and soaring ceilings come with a price: they have to be heated and cooled. Ritchie said, "The electricity bills for July, August and September last year were $60,000 a month. That was more than double what we estimated. We pay peak rates in the summer. The bill was $35K in October." Another reason the bills were so high last summer was the heat pump system was being tested. Ritchie thought it should be lower this summer.
Science classrooms in both schools seemed to have ample storage room. L-S had small prep rooms off the science classrooms which were handy. Some tables in the classroom were on wheels so the room could be adapted to the lessons. Special ventilation, which is needed for science and photography classes, is a major problem in L-S. No photography classes were given this year due to the inadequate ventilation. They also had "start-up" problems with the gas lines to the science classrooms that took months to resolve.
Hudson also has ventilation problems in their science classrooms. In addition, a "greenhouse" area in one classroom did not work out as planned. This part of the building is not air conditioned and is on the sunny side. The classroom is too hot. Another problem is that the one science classroom that experienced a flood was directly above a computer lab. An advantage at HHS is that every classroom has counter space with cabinets above and below.
L-S has two gyms, both with good lighting. The "performance" gym, however, has major deficiencies. There are large pillars which support the roof, and bleachers are placed between the columns. "We got 200 fewer seats than we wanted and 88% of the seats have obstructed views," said Ritchie. Luckily, there is a balcony around the whole gym where people can stand and watch the action below. They also have a multipurpose room that is used for dance and a small room with exercise bikes that is used for wellness testing. The L-S fitness center is extensive with many machines and mirrors.
In contrast, Hudson has one large 20,000 square-foot gym that can be partitioned off with mesh curtains. There is an elevated track where 11 revolutions equal one mile. Although it is too narrow to be used for competition, it can be used for track practice and used by joggers and walkers of the community. Hudson also has a wrestling room and a dance studio. The fitness equipment in the weight room can be used by students and the community.
The gym is large enough to accommodate 1,800 chairs on the floor for graduation. The ceremony is simultaneously broadcast in the auditorium which has air conditioning. An audience of 2,000 people can attend. Graduation went so smoothly here that the principal said it wouldn't be held outside again. (Note: A 30,000 square-foot gym can fit an indoor track suitable for competition and is considered a field house.)
L-S decided to add two turf fields for $1.2 million. It is "filled turf," not Astroturf. These fields are used for lacrosse, soccer and field hockey, not football. They can be used all the time and the maintenance cost is low. Nancy Jennett thought that the artificial turf fields are "probably a good investment." Hudson now has facilities for night football and night softball.
L-S has a large auditorium with a sizable balcony. It's lovely, except the center section is 30 seats between aisles. Dulong thought that design would "become a serious issue over time." Many on the committee loved the space behind the stage, the dressing rooms, the place to build sets and the black box theater. A black box theater has a small stage and black walls around it. It is used for a variety of activities including improv and skits. Hudson has a 750-seat auditorium also, on one level instead of two. Both schools had a 100-seat lecture hall/small theater.
One security complaint about CCHS is that it has so many doors, over seventy. HHS has a prominent main entrance with the administrative offices right there. Other doors of the building have a three-second alarm which rings when they are opened. Lock-down is possible in HHS as there are movable gates at corridor entrances. These gates disappear into the ceiling when they are not being used. L-S in contrast, has doors on all sides where students can come and go at will. Security was not a major concern.
Most of L-S has wireless capability. There's a computer lab for each department and a computer in every class. Hudson has wireless capabilities throughout the building, with bulletins and reminders on hallway screens. They have 900 computers. Science labs have six computers; each teacher has a laptop which can be adapted to an overhead projector. In addition, HHS has an automated copy center. Teachers can send documents over the network to be reproduced overnight. The copied pages are ready for pick-up in the morning.
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