WESTPORT — The latest of a series of continuing revisions to site and floor plans for a proposed new junior/senior high school on Old County Road went before the Westport School Building Committee with lead architect Jonathan Levi June 28.
Both sets of plans are due to be completed by the start of August, when realistic cost estimates for the project will be collected. The building committee hopes to get finalized plans and cost estimates ready for approval at a Sept. 6 joint meeting scheduled with the Select Board and Westport School Committee, said building committee co-chair Dianne Baron.
Once endorsed by those two boards, the total project package is scheduled to be submitted to the Mass. School Building Authority by mid-September. Approval by the MSBA at its October meeting would include firm numbers on the reimbursement levels offered by the state agency, and determine the amount of local funding required.
The cost estimates developed by late August will determine whether the building committee needs to make some last-minute final adjustments to the proposed bid specifications for “budget considerations,” Baron said.
Levi said some “alternate” specifications for parts of the project could be developed, such as substituting lower-priced materials for pricier products, or delaying the development of certain athletic fields for a time. Once again, the construction of an indoor walking track in the gym was mentioned as an option that might be reconsidered.
Most of the site plan is firmed up, but most building committee members agreed that the proposed traffic pattern seemed to present some issues of concern. They would like to see the bus drop-off points moved to the front of the building, allowing middle school students and high school students to immediately split up and head to their separate academic wings.
Former selectman Tony Vieira said special attention should be paid to the impact that the new school’s athletic fields will have on the adjoining Westport Elementary School campus. He thought that the “encroachment” of the new fields might affect space currently used for outdoor physical education classes, and suggested that clearing woods to the north of WES could create a new field for those classes.
In the latest site plan, regulation-sized baseball and softball diamonds sit behind the proposed new school, with overlaying field hockey and soccer fields for fall use of the same space. Two smaller practice fields are laid out in front of the school, near Old County Road. The four existing tennis courts would be relocated behind the public library, and expanded with the addition of a fifth court, according to Levi.
Changes in the floor plan coming out of design subcommittee meetings in recent weeks were guided by input from Superintendent Ann Marie Dargon and school staffers, Levi said. The latest version of the two-story H-shaped building’s floor plan has the high school academic wing on the west side, and the middle school wing on the east side of the facility.
Seeking some “efficiencies” in the use of space, the square footage is slowly being scaled back in each version of the plan, Levi noted. The smaller footprint “will benefit the overall project budget,” he said.
Two separate administration areas flank the front entrance, and a centralized cafeteria, kitchen and auditorium connect the two wings. A spacious back lobby provides after-hours access to both the auditorium and adjoining two-court gymnasium on the north side of the building. The gym can be divided for separate use by middle school and high school physical education classes during the day.
Levi noted that his design team still has to meet with representatives of the police department and fire department to get their input on preliminary safety and security issues.
For the exterior appearance, Levi made a strong pitch for natural wooden shingles with some stone work for the front of the school. A survey of all the public buildings in town showed them “all shingled” except for Town Hall and currently used school buildings, he noted.
“I want a building that fits in with the town, that looks like it belongs here,” Levi said. “I see a lot of shingles, a lot of stone” for the new school, he added.
His vision also includes an exterior lattice of supports holding “sun shades” that would lower heating and cooling costs.
The roof lines of the new school would be perfectly pitched to provide maximum efficiency by the arrays of solar panels placed there, the architect is proposing. Specially designed windows would block the sun’s rays in summer to keep the building cool, and admit sunlight coming from a different angle in winter months, cutting heating costs.
Owner’s project manager Dan Tavares told the building committee he will be working on updates to the potential site remediation costs originally developed for the middle school, abandoned after PCBs were discovered in window caulking, roof tiles and other materials in the building. His concern focused on how much soil remediation would be needed after the building is demolished.
The project budget includes $8 million for abatement of the hazardous materials in the closed school, and the proper disposal of the contaminants removed, and there are funds for “some soil remediation” in the proposed demolition plans. He said the original estimates of clean-up costs need to be double-checked before the overall budget is finalized.