Supervisor Vows No Delays Despite Shifting High School Construction Funds to Other Projects

Above is concept art depicting the new front view of Northampton High School, featuring multiple glass panels and a bowed roof on the new auditorium and middle school gym. Image courtesy of Northampton County Public Schools.

By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton’s middle and high school renovations and new construction will proceed with “no delay whatsoever” despite a recent decision to repurpose $20 million borrowed for the project to fund repairs and improvements needed at Northampton’s two elementary schools.

That was the report from Supervisor John Coker, who attended a public hearing on the middle and high school project Wednesday night in the Northampton High School auditorium.

Northampton supervisors borrowed approximately $24 million in fall 2020 for the middle and high school before deciding this spring to shift $20 million to the elementary schools.

Coker estimated that supervisors will need to borrow another $20 million – likely this fall – when the designs for the middle and high school complex will be 75% complete.

The designs are currently about 35% complete, said Maureen McElfresh, of Waller, Todd & Sadler, the Virginia Beach architectural firm working on the project.

The project will transform Northampton High School from a high school that also accommodates middle school students to a purposely designed middle and high school complex that has shared spaces – such as the auditorium – but also gives the middle and high school students their own classroom wings, cafeterias, and gyms.

The building’s size will increase from approximately 110,000 square feet to about 150,000 square feet.

Most of the original 1954 structure – which contains the existing cafeteria and auditorium – will be demolished, but not until those areas are replaced on the opposite side of the building.

Most of the 1978 addition is in good enough condition that renovations are a cost-effective solution to the structural issues there.

Waller, Todd & Sadler does not recommend demolition of a structure unless the cost of repairs is more than 50% of the cost of replacement.

McElfresh updated the public on the progress of the design phase following a meeting with Northampton High School teachers earlier that day.

The new high school wing was designed with 20 classrooms designated for core subjects such as language arts, math, history, and science – not individual teachers. Four teacher planning rooms were included.

However, the teachers preferred to have their own classrooms and suggested eliminating two of the planning rooms, which they did not deem necessary, and converting those spaces into additional classrooms so there would be enough for all the teachers.

That was an example of the kind of input Waller, Todd & Sadler is seeking at this point in the project design phase.

Citizens who attended the public hearing also made suggestions for the school district and architectural firm to consider.

Sandra Beerends asked if the building design included restrooms for transgender students. McElfresh noted two unisex restrooms were included, which could be used by teachers and some students who could be granted special access if necessary.

Alternatively, the girls and boys restrooms planned across the hall could be redesigned as what McElfresh called “inclusive” restrooms, which are gaining popularity, she said.

A row of sinks would be behind a half wall, and across from the sinks would be fully enclosed toilets – as opposed to traditional toilet stalls – that anyone could use.

Another citizen asked why the new weight room was designed with lots of windows, because female student athletes are concerned about being observed while they are exercising.

McElfresh said the intent of the design was to let in natural light and make the space more pleasant, but obscure glass could be used to add privacy.

Waller, Todd & Sadler will consider these and other suggestions made during the public hearing as the architectural firm continues work on the project. The firm expects the design phase to reach the 45% mark by the end of June.

The project is expected to go to bid in February 2022, with a contract awarded in May or June 2022 and construction taking place over the following two years.

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