By Liz Premo, Atlantic News Staff Writer
Atlantic News, Friday, March 11, 2005
[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News]
HAMPTON -- It was exactly one year ago that voters in Hampton, Hampton Falls, North Hampton and Seabrook were preparing to make a decision crucial enough to impact the education of Winnacunnet High School students: Whether or not to approve a proposed $26.85 million building and renovation project.
A majority vote from throughout the four towns made the voters' decision loud and clear: WHS was in desperate need of this project, and there was no time like the present to get it started. After being rejected at the polls several times in previous elections, the project was finally overwhelmingly approved in March 2004.
A groundbreaking ceremony held last September paved the way to preparation of the site where the school's new physical education facility is currently rising upon the landscape. Venturing up the hill along Alumni Drive, it's hard to miss what's finally taking shape on the WHS campus.
"It has progressed quite well," SAU21 Superintendent Jim Gaylord says. "Right now we're on track and looking good."
Major foundation and structural steel work, and the installation of electrical cables in the gymnasium have been accomplished, and masonry work (concrete walls, etc.) has been ongoing. Areas of the structure are self-contained with temporary heating units installed so that interior masonry work can take place during the winter months. Under-the-floor electrical conduits were put into place before the concrete floors were poured, and plumbing/ water lines have been installed.
The incredibly snowy winter (not to mention the January blizzard) doesn't appear to have kept construction workers from stepping up and carrying on with their task.
"Even with the bad weather, they've only fallen behind by a couple of weeks," says Gaylord. "We're already a good portion through. At one point they were putting up a wall a day."
So where does this ongoing progress put the eventual opening of the doors to the phys ed facility?" According to Gaylord, "[It] is scheduled for use [beginning] on May 22." That means that supporters of the project as well as the community at large will be allowed access to the building - and not just to see what everything looks like inside.
"We have the indoor track that will be available; it's always been discussed that it would be something the community can use," says Gaylord. The same goes for the basketball courts. "I'm sure they will be played constantly," he adds.
Needless to say, the new building is already making an impact on those who see it. "Once it [got] started, people said 'Wow, that's going to be really nice,'" says Gaylord. "And I think it is."
Naturally, the phys ed facility isn't the only major change taking place at WHS.
"As that has progressed, we've been looking at the high school building," says Gaylord. "The staff and administration have been [preparing]; offices have already been moved around."
Gaylord predicts that as the renovations begin prior to the end of the school year, "There'll be some disruption; I think the students and teachers have become aware of that." So far, he says, "there have been very few complaints," even with the ongoing work on the phys-ed facility. "The construction crew has minimized the noise," he adds.
Beginning March 25, portions of the existing school building "will be sealed off and the demolition process will take place," reports Gaylord. "That will put us several weeks ahead of schedule of where we planned to be," thus perhaps making any time lost due to inclement weather no longer an issue.
Plans are to move equipment into the new phys ed facility in order to seal off the Dodge Gymnasium and convert that area into the new cafeteria. When that work is complete, the former cafeteria will be sealed off and the area converted into a performing arts center conveniently located adjacent to the auditorium. Asbestos abatement will also take place during the course of the renovations, which include the construction of 23 new classrooms, new ceilings, all new paint, new flooring, a heating and ventilation system, security system and new wiring.
"We're talking about a pretty major overhaul of the building," says Gaylord.
Nothing academic or community in nature will be taking place in the building this coming summer - no ACT ONE summer theatre, and no summer school, for starters.
"The amount of construction going on is intense," says Gaylord. "We're severely limiting the use of the building. He notes that "offices may actually move out into the portables (modular classrooms); we're not sure of that."
When all is said and done (the target date for completion is February 15, 2006), "all of the offices will be up front, so when you walk in the building that's where you'll be greeted," says Gaylord. "It's more welcoming and more secure, and the most important thing: the portables will be gone." And regarding the infamous 14 modular classrooms scattered about the WHS campus, Gaylord says that the leased units will be returned and those which had been purchased may possibly be sold.
Something else to consider will be the impact upon the current traffic flow near WHS: A new road leading out to Winnacunnet Road from the school "will primarily be the student entrance and exit," says Gaylord. To that end, he says, "we've worked with the town manager, the transportation department, the police chief and the town planner. We've made sure we're very open to them." The small traffic island near the Winnacunnet/ Park Avenue intersection is expected to be reconfigured, though there aren't any current plans to install a traffic light.
Receiving the green light for the WHS building project to finally take place prompts Gaylord to say that "it's a good feeling to say to the community, 'thank you.' Without them (the voters), we wouldn't have it." And, declaring that the project is "a good deal," Gaylord says "I think it's been a lift - not only for the school community, but for the whole community."
The whole community can check out the ongoing progress of the WHS building project by visiting www.winnacunnet.k12.nh.us/ construction/ photos.