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Final Rockwell, Johnson Facility Study Workshop Reveals Results

The Board of Education is taking the initial steps to possibly update and/or renovate the Rockwell and Johnson school buildings, which are more than 30 years old.

After two previous workshops and months of organizing, members of the Bethel Public Schools community met with representatives from Drummey Rosane Anderson, Inc. (DRA), who have completed results of the on the Johnson and Rockwell schools.

The Board of Education initiated the study earlier this year to obtain valid information about the current conditions of the mechanical, structural and educational components of the school buildings, which are many decades old. Rockwell School was completed in 1971 and Johnson School was finished in 1980.  

Board of Education Chairman Larry Craybas said at Tuesday's meeting: "We needed to get the facts, not only to present to the townspeople and the Board of Finance, but also to realize the biggest problems with the schools."

During the past few months, DRA representatives completed a forensic investigative study of the existing conditions in each school, a study of existing educational programs and future curriculum/student requirements, an investigation into student population trends and growth expectations,  development of various ideas for coping with building deficiencies and a series of workshops to explain the challenges and opportunities to the community.

Jim Barrett, from DRA, said the results of study help determine critical issues of the old buildings and the cost of possible renovations.

"We became aware of the critical issues and whether or not these buildings can serve students in the future," Barrett said. "Our goal would be to gain back the best uses of these spaces."

Both Johnson and Rockwell have several physical and code issues, according to DRA representative Paul Brown.

Brown said the study revealed that the both schools have leaky roofs, cracks in the plaster and masonry, insufficient parking and pickup/drop-off locations, non-useful spaces (i.e. gym showers, small classrooms) and were not up to code particularly with handicapped access.

"It's now required that 50 percent of entrances to schools need to be handicapped accessible," Brown explained.

He also said bathrooms, sinks and door handles were not up to standard for handicapped students. While Bethel schools have been "grandfathered" in for several regulations, Brown said it does not save them from a possible complaint or fine.

While there were problems, both schools have well-maintained floors and boilers. 

Barrett said these issues were not usual, as 75 percent of the 120,000 school buildings in the country were built before 1970.

"The problems with Johnson and Rockwell are not uncommon and these buildings have served the community well, but have exceeded their useful life expectancy," Barrett said.

Barrett also explained that the introduction of more technology in the classroom is also an issue, as it takes up more space.

Superintendent Dr. Gary Chesley also said the schools may need reorganization to serve the increased use of technology, new state requirements and the increase for special needs students.

"We are seeing a greater need for physical therapy, an increased rate in autism and special needs children," Chesley said. "...Science is also now being tested at the fifth grade level. You need to designate a larger space to teach the new requirements."

DRA also provided different renovation scenarios, costs and state reimbursement from simply fixing what is currently broken to partial renovation to completely new construction. Barrett said DRA didn't recommend a specific plan, but that their results will act more as a guide for whatever plan the Board of Education may choose in the future.

Bother October 14, 2011 at 11:26 AM
I listened to their presentation and it looks to me like they did a very thorough job and presented options at both ends of the expense scale and everything in the middle. This kind of planning and discussion before we get to a crisis is a very valuable undertaking. Good work!
harry freud October 14, 2011 at 04:31 PM
in the interim it might be good to put 2 thru wall air conditioners in the classrooms to help the asthmatic children. i notice the office is cool. im surprised the parents havent pushed for this. im sure this cant be a budget buster & chances are private funds would really help out.thank you.

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