By Stefanie Jackson – In less than four years, Northampton County middle and high school students will be immersed in a contemporary, state-of-the-art learning environment if the Northampton High School capital improvement project is completed on schedule, the public learned Tuesday night.
Maureen McElfresh, of Virginia Beach architectural firm Waller, Todd & Sadler, presented the plan to modernize the Northampton High School campus – also home to Northampton Middle School – through a combination of heavy renovation and some demolition and new construction.
Most of the original structure built in 1954 will be demolished, since repairing it would not be cost effective. The area to be demolished includes the kitchen, cafeteria, and auditorium.
Another area built in 1954 but renovated in 2009, including high school classrooms, will undergo new renovations.
The addition built in 1978 will be renovated, including classrooms, the high school gym, and the weight and wrestling rooms.
Every major building system will be replaced. The roof, heating and air conditioning, water and sprinkler systems, electric switchboard, and mechanical/electrical room will be new. More infrastructure for Wi-Fi, data, and audio-visual equipment will be added, and all lighting will be replaced with LED lights.
Everything in the building will get a “fresh coat of paint” and other upgrades, for a seamless transition from one wing to another.
“When you walk into the facility, you won’t say, ‘Oh, there’s the new part, and there’s the new part,’” McElfresh said.
The school building will be more than 30% larger when the project is finished, even after demolishing about 43,000 square feet of space. The building’s total area will increase 110,685 square feet to 145,590 square feet.
That means more space for new career and technical education courses like agriculture/aquaponics and cyber security. CTE courses in auto mechanics, building trades, culinary arts, business accounting, marketing, and personal finance will continue to be offered.
Noncareer programs that are currently held in the CTE building will be moved, such as Spanish, special education, and in-school suspension.
Access to the school building by students, parents, and community members will be safer and more secure.
There will be two separate entrances for students and visitors on the east side of the building by the main parking lot. A bus loop will be behind the parking lot and can provide extra parking after school for sports or other events.
Buses will drop off students at their own entrance. There will still be access to the CTE building from Courthouse Road to the CTE building, but the access road will stop at a small parking lot and will not continue toward the rear of the school property. Students will be able to access all areas of the campus and never cross traffic.
Visitors at their entrance will be buzzed into a secure vestibule, where they can present identification at a service window and enter the office.
The high school and middle school wings are on the west side of the building, while the auditorium, gyms, and administrative offices are on the east side. This separation creates increased security, allowing the classrooms to be “locked down” at night when the public areas of the building are in use, McElfresh said.
The plan allows the high school and middle school to share a building but maintain separate spaces and identities. High school and middle school students will rarely cross paths in the hallways, McElfresh said.
The high school wing will be on the north side of the building, while the middle school wing will be on the south side, facing Courthouse Road, with shared elective classrooms in the middle.
The high school and middle school will have separate gyms. The students will have one cafeteria, but they will be separated during mealtimes by a partition that can be moved to create a larger, shared space when needed.
During the question and answer period, school board member Jo Ann Molera raised concern that in the concept art, the school’s roof appears flat except over the auditorium and middle school gym.
But despite appearances, every roof will be sloped, McElfresh said.
She noted that the concept art also incorporates a lot of glass near the front of the school, allowing plenty of inviting, natural light into the lobby.
The architects want to “put a new face on it and really show the community” that Northampton High School is valued by the board of supervisors and school board and a place where kids want to be, she said.
Waller, Todd & Sadler’s team of architects solicited input from school administrators, teachers, and students when putting together its plan.
The estimated project cost is $33.8 million for renovation of the high school and construction of the new middle school wing. Renovations to the CTE building would cost $3.3 million and a new water supply system would add $350,000.
The entire project will be finished in 40 to 42 months, including 10 to 12 months for design, 1.5 months to accept bids, 1.5 months to draw up the contract, and 24 months for construction.
The plan takes into account that the high school will be used throughout the construction period and some parts of the building must be finished before others can be torn down.
Substantial completion is expected by spring or summer of 2024.
Waller, Todd & Sadler, which conducted a structural investigation of Northampton High School in 2019, has been in business since 1956 and has built 57 new schools and renovated 153 schools.
Its mission statement is, “create a learning environment that will enable every child to discover his or her unique gifts and talents.”