Board members, educators, and community members alike seemed generally pleased with the new plan for a 1200-student middle school, which was presented at the board of education's meeting on Tuesday, Dec, 12. "The impact of this design," said Weber Middle School principal Matthew Sanzone, "is small schools within a school ... the design really makes it happen." The plan, created by the Spector Group, sought to foster the more personal atmosphere of the house structure (of which there are four in Weber) while unifying the building into one school at the same time. Core services or programs, shared by students regardless of their specific house assignment, are centrally located. Great effort was evidently made to identify and incorporate underutilized space in the design. It also offered components to resolve both short- and long-term space problems.
In a vote of five in favor, none opposed, and one abstention (Mrs. Meyer), the school board voted to appoint the Spector Group, architects for the district. Moreover, an agreement was reached with the Turner Construction Group, it was announced; attorneys are formulating a contract.
In a presentation of visuals that covered the proposed plan for the middle school, floor by floor, the architects said the design stressed the philosophy of an intimate four-house structure, unified as one middle school. Highlights of the proposed design included:
I. Six temporary portable classrooms for September, 2001. These would be located in the front courtyard of the old Flower Hill School, and connected to the building. When the Weber renovations are completed, the portables "will be dismantled, and the courtyard returned to its current, or improved, condition," planners said.
II. A new addition to the west of the existing main building will create an entire house on one floor. The Red House will all be on one level. Its major components will be four 6th-grade classooms, three 7th-grade classrooms, and three 8th-grade classrooms. Also included will be two large science rooms, and a larger restroom facility, to accommodate a larger student population.
III. The Green House is planned for the other end of the Weber complex. After "recouping existing square footage from the old Flower Hill School," the architects indicated this house would have the same components as the Red House.
IV. Between the Red and Green Houses will be the location of all shared classes and services. All services or programs the two houses will utilize - like administrative offices, the nurse's office, and the Encore area - will be centered between the houses. And across the hallway, the architects have placed the guidance offices with waiting areas.
V. The Media Center/Library will be more accessible and enlarged from 1900 square feet to close to 5,000 square feet. By incorporating a dead-end courtyard and an underutilized corner of the school, the currently-undersized library will grow to a size more appropriate to the size of the school population, the architects said. They also hope to make it equidistant from the houses and to center it vertically, between the first and the second floor. Plans call for it to be handicapped- accessible as well.
VI. Relieve bus congestion and Campus Road traffic by allowing traffic to flow behind the old Flower Hill building and onto Bogart Avenue. The architects indicate that a storage shed, built as an addition at the back of the gym, must be removed to establish this component.
The Spector Group spokesman also said that they hoped to restore and make practical use of an area between the old Flower Hill School and a freestanding building (marked "Kindergarden" above the entrance.). After removing the current storage area, and restoring the corridor, they planned to enclose it with glass to enable "all to have access to the building."
SECOND FLOOR PLAN
I. Build a Blue House complex, identical to the others, over the Red House. Both houses will be located in the western addition to the main building.
II. Create the Yellow House rooms, over the Green House, without building a new addition. The architects have identified ample, underutilized attic space to create the rooms needed. This plan calls for equivalent rooms, space, and resources for each of the four houses.
III. Encore space for the shared services and programs - like foreign language, health, and an auditorium - will be created by building over the existing link on the first floor, so the entire second floor, for the first time, will be united. "No one will have to go down to go up," said the architect.
IV. Updated bathrooms will be created for a larger special education area.
The plan calls for this area, located under the Red House in the Main Building, to include:
I. Three full-size special education rooms
II. Parking under the addition, yielding 45-50 parking spots
Under the Flower Hill wing of the building, the architects propose:
I. Two additional physical education stations, bringing the total number of stations to four.
II. An acoustically-equipped band room
III. Three new computer rooms
The architects' current plan would increase the current square footage from 176,183 square feet to 211,000. Though the costs were very roughly estimated to total $15 million, the actual numbers will be developed by the construction manager and his team, it was explained.
Many reacted to the plan with obvious delight and approval. "This is closer to the ideal program, and much farther ahead than we would have been at Sousa," said Weber Principal Matthew Sanzone, while Superintendent Dr. Albert Inserra called the plan "inspirational design." School Board member Jon Zimmerman called it "wonderful," but expressed concern that the cost might be too high. One community member, though, advised that a traffic engineer be hired, to ensure access for the Fire Department or ambulances. Dr. Inserra responded that they were aware of four or five issues that had to be addressed. Another Port resident raised the issue of space for occupational and physical therapy services for children in special education; he was assured that the plan was not in its final form, and that Weber departments would be examining it. Others felt special education classrooms in the basement might spell isolation for some students.
As some community members requested that the drawings be made available to the public, administrators said they would try to make it available, perhaps through e-mail. At the opening of the meeting, when community comments were invited by BOE VP Bob Ferro (filling in for an ailing BOE President Richard Sussman) one community member asked how much the taxpayer was going to have to pay; others pressed for the swift approval of portables. After the presentation of the Weber plan, a number said they were willing to spend whatever was needed to ensure a good plan.
In other business, tenure was granted to Guggenheim Speech and Language teacher Helene Wasserman and Schreiber English teacher Donna Valenti. Two teachers have resigned; they are Schreiber math teacher Miriam Goodry and Schreiber social studies teacher John Cahill. In addition, Schreiber chemistry teacher Linda Mottl has resigned, effective Dec. 21. The board of education also voted to authorize Spectra Financial Services to review state aid claims and seek additional aid, if possible. No payment is made to Spectra unless they recover additional funds. Should they do so, they receive 20% of the additional monies. Earlier, all attendees were treated to the musical talents of the Manorhaven School's Glee Club, at which this meeting was held.