The goal: Doing Norwell proud
June 20, 2012
Northern Wells Superintendent Scott Mills discusses how the $14.9 million renovations will change the high school.
The referendum has passed; now, NWCS leaders want to make the high school the best it can be
By an almost 2-to-1 margin — 2,310 to 1,262 — voters in May approved spending $14.9 million to renovate Norwell High School.
Now, school officials will design a school that will sway those who voted against it, the district’s superintendent said.
“I’m elated,” said Scott Mills, superintendent of the Northern Wells Community Schools. “I’m very pleased. I think it’s certainly a positive direction for our school system.
“It’s going to allow us to provide the quality service our students deserve.
“So now it’s up to us, as far as the school board and staff,” Mills said. “We want to make the project something (opponents) will be proud of as well.”
Now that the public has approved the renovations, Mills said, Kari Vilamaa, president of the architectural firm Barton-Coe-Vilamaa, said that they should be able to advertise bids at the NWCS board’s meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 16.
Vilamaa also said he hopes to begin construction by Christmas break.
Mills said he might schedule a work session for board members in July to share what he, architects and other administrators have already discussed.
For instance, officials are now contemplating moving the cafeteria and kitchen to another area of the school, which would allow them to keep the cafeteria open during renovations.
If they don’t move the facilities, though, district officials will either have to close the cafeteria at the end or the beginning of the school year, because workers can’t renovate it during the summer months only.
Regardless, though, Vilamaa said he won’t propose any ideas that add to the overall cost of the project.
“We’re not trying to create more costs by any means,” he said. “It’s been a good start so far. We’re real enthused about the project.”
Vilamaa said that Northern Wells is offering the biggest project in the area, so contractors will want to win it, possibly enticing them to keep bids low.
Board President Gene Donaghy also thought the lack of regional school projects will help the district.
“(Contractors) are basically pretty hungry,” he said, “so we should be able to get some decent prices.”
In general, the project will replace the heating, ventilation and air conditioning in the high school. The current system, Mills said, doesn’t filter the air well enough to meet state standards, and it disrupts classrooms with its noise level.
The renovation package would also “modernize” the A wing, as well as parts of the B wing, which holds about 65 percent of the classrooms.
Particularly, the renovations would basically transform six 750 square-foot classrooms into four rooms of about 1,000 square feet, giving students and teachers 25 percent more space for learning.
At 750 square feet, Mills said, students must navigate around “zones,” portions of the classrooms reserved for purposes other than student mobility and work.
The band and choir rooms, as well as the auditorium, would also be modernized and brought to code.
“We want input because the staff teaches in it, and we want the students to choose an environment that’s good for them to learn in,” Mills said.
If all goes well, school board members will seek bids in about six months. The project will increase the tax rate by no more than 17.72 cents for ever $100 in property value, estimated Jim Elizondo, a financial consultant for the district.
Under that rate, a homeowner with a $100,000 home will owe approximately $52 more a year — or $4.33 a month.
Ultimately, if all variables cooperate, students will attend a renovated school in the 2014-2015 school year, Mills estimated.
Mills and school officials wish that students could do that now, but in 2007 and 2010, the public voted against renovations.
In 2007, the project also included $1.8 million to run a water line to the school, which stirred up the opposition, said board president Gene Donaghy.
Also, Donaghy said, “the opposition was really pushing... that we had more wants than needs.”
Then, in 2010, the district was laying off teachers and staff members to “live within a new budget,” and the public didn’t support renovating the building because of that, Donaghy said, even though the money to pay for staff and the money to pay for renovations stems from separate funds.
However, in 2010, the project fell short by only 55 votes, and this year, the proponents pushed harder.
For instance, the student council gave a presentation during a school board meeting that helped sway people, Donaghy said, and supporters mailed more than 4,000 letters last week urging people to vote yes, and even those who didn’t support it said they wouldn’t vote against it, Donaghy said.
“I think people finally realize that the school is 45 years old and hasn’t really had any updates,” he said.
“I think it’s great for the community,” he said. “It’s a big win for the students and staff and the community.”