High schools for the 21st century

Posted 3/25/21

By ARDEN BASTIA "Think of these facilities as platforms for long-term change, not stuck in the one year they were designed in. We want to empower educators to change and not be restricted by their buildings," said Frank Locker during a special school

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High schools for the 21st century


“Think of these facilities as platforms for long-term change, not stuck in the one year they were designed in. We want to empower educators to change and not be restricted by their buildings,” said Frank Locker during a special school committee meeting Tuesday, March 23, where he presented proposals to transform Pilgrim and Toll Gate High Schools.

Locker of Frank Locker Educational Plan based in Randolph, MA is working alongside the building committee to assess the future of Warwick’s high schools. Locker prepared four or five options for each school, the upgrades range in cost from $140 million to $200 million.

Anthony Ferrucci, chair of the building committee, estimates the total renovations to cost $300 million to $315 million. According to Locker, RIDE is projected to reimburse 35 to 50 percent of the total cost.

Ed Borget, architect of SAAM Architecture working on the project, was also in attendance at the meeting to discuss construction details and possible timelines.

The building committee, responsible for overseeing the administration of school building bonds for repair projects, includes Ferrucci, Superintendent Philip Thornton, school committee member David Testa, city building inspector Alfred DeCorte, Pilgrim High School principal Gerry Habershaw, and construction representatives Hugh Fisher and William Holmes.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Locker first presented the visioning concepts, the motivation and inspiration behind the high school redesign, the results of brainstorming sessions from community stakeholders that attended a workshop in the beginning stages of the project. Some of these concepts include twenty-first century learning and teaching, integrated learning, a focus on social and emotional skills, longer class periods for deeper learning, support for teachers working together with a large cohort of students, utilizing all available space for learning including extended learning areas both indoors and outdoors, and offering a variety of furnishings to give teachers and students options.

The stakeholders, said Locker, “had real concern for our community zone, which would be inviting to the public and be one-stop-shopping for those functions that the public would be coming to, like the auditorium, gymnasium, and cafeteria.”

Each high school plan has an emphasis on media centers and libraries, in order to give students easier access to information technology.

In all of the designs, the four plans for Pilgrim High School and the five plans for Toll Gate High School, synthetic football fields and upgraded athletic fields are available in each option, as well as upgrades to meet current ADA codes.

“These are buildings you’re going to want to own for the next fifty or sixty or seventy years,” said Locker.

Pilgrim High School plans

Locker presented four plans for Pilgrim High School.

Option A would “accept what you have and see what can be done to modify it without effecting most of the building,” said Locker, who also pointed out that Pilgrim’s square footage is currently too small for the population served, according to the Rhode Island Department of Education. Option A includes an addition to meet those square footage requirement. This option would take about 30 months to complete and would cost $137,977,300. Option A offers approximately 480 parking spaces and suggests a new two-story addition, minimal demolition, additional parking, rebuilding the football field with synthetic turf, and update other athletic fields.

Option B would take slightly longer, and focused on increasing education aspects by putting additions on the edges of the courtyard. “Pilgrim has really wonderful courtyard spaces but they’re under utilized,” Locker said. “In my experience doing this planning work, in order to make courtyards effective for the school, we have to make them purposeful.”

Other additions in Option B include an upgraded front entryway to provide more safety and security that the building doesn’t offer now.

Option B, with an estimated completion time of 36 months, would cost $139,410,015 and recommends a new two-story addition, additional parking spaces, rebuilding the football field with synthetic turf, as well as updating other athletic fields.

“We haven’t really done anything to give the message and the character that this building is a twenty-first century building,” said Locker, who presented Option C as the best way to bring this message to the public. “We gave this one a title, ‘Community Hug’, because it makes a major statement to the community,” explained Locker, who pointed out that the auditorium, cafeteria, and gym are all closer together and more accessible for both the public and for students.

Option C would also take roughly 36 months to complete, and would cost $176,739,305. Option C also features a new two-story addition across the front of the building, including a new façade for the outside of the school, better safety and security controls, new sports fields, and additional parking.

By making the parking lot and bus drop off more compact, more land is available for new athletic fields.

“This is the option where we see sports fields, athletics and physical education have a bonus,” said Locker.

Option D is the most intense of the options, suggesting a brand new three-story building, new sports fields, rebuilding the football field with synthetic turf, and updating other athletic fields. Option D would cost $198,720,845 and take 24 months to complete.

Toll Gate High School plans

For Toll Gate High School, Locker presented five options.

“Toll Gate is a very different kind of building with very different challenges, and so the options are different,” Locker said.

Option A would take about 30 months to complete, costing $122,135,750. Option A suggests adding a new story addition, demolishing Drum Rock, rebuilding the football field with synthetic turf, and updates to other athletic fields.

“One of many big problems with Toll Gate is that it is a windowless building. Many, many classrooms don’t have windows and that makes ventilation more difficult, and makes the day drone on,” said Locker.

Option B would include an outdoor learning space and give “substantial impact with very little change,” according to Locker.

Option B would take 36 months to complete and will cost $123,838,370 and consist of a new story addition, enlarged bridges, an outdoor learning space, demolishing Drum Rock, and rebuilding the football field with synthetic turf.

Option C would also take about 36 months to complete, costing $125,424,605. Option C suggests a new story addition, enlarged bridges, new commons and media center, demolishing Drum Rock, and rebuilding the football field with synthetic turf.

“What we’ve done here is taken the courtyard and made it like a food court mall space with classrooms looking into it,” explained Locker. “That’s our media center, with a skylight ceiling; well-lit, great light, and on several levels. We think this is a significant gesture that not only meets the functional requirements but also creates a sense of community. My prediction is that this is a kid magnet, and we need kid magnets in our schools.”

With Option C, Locker wants to improve the entryway to the building.

“The entry into Toll Gate is rather awkward. You’re entering into a 200,000 plus square foot building and you’re going into this small subway-like space that has no public significance. It’s practical and it works and it has better safety and security, but it’s not the kind of space that is a gesture of hello to either the kids on a daily basis or visitors,” Locker said.

Option D would take 30 months to complete and will cost $151,314,720. This option includes a new three-story addition, replace the North building with stairs and parking, an outdoor learning space, demolition of Drum Rock, and rebuilding the football field with synthetic turf.

Alternative Option D would also take 30 months and cost $159,170,445. This option includes the same suggestions as Option D, however, instead of an outdoor learning space, Alternative Option D includes enclosed learning atrium.

Construction begins summer 2024

Locker and Borget recommended Option C for both Pilgrim and Toll Gate High Schools.

“Folks have been fearful that the ground Pilgrim is on is not super solid,” said Superintendent Philip Thornton during the meeting. “So what safeguards do you do as you look to new construction to make sure you’re building on ground that isn’t sinking?”

Borget said he and an outside team did assessments on the building and land, and found that both are solid. Borget said there were “no apparent cracks or evidence of sinking or differential movement within the building.”

Moving forward with the new design, explained Borget, a geotechnical engineer would be brought on to conduct tests to get a “very clear understanding of the makeup and composition of the grounds and also things like ground water level. With that, we would be able to design foundations that are appropriate for that specific area. I want to emphasize there is no real evidence of the building moving or sinking.”

Borget also emphasized that Pilgrim’s new roof will be slightly pitched with overflow drains to accommodate the leaking problems the school has had over the years.

“What we’re trying to do in the twenty-first century is integrate the curriculum and bring people together,” said Locker. “We’re trying to make relationships and get people to work together. Just think of your own world of work and the difference between working in isolation and working with others.”

Borget estimates construction to take three years for each high school. The construction plans have been strategically thought through in order to provide minimal disruption to learning for students and faculty.

“Our thinking is that students will remain in the school,” said Borget. “Generally, the idea is that the project begins by adding on new classroom space, which gives the flexibility to move students into new spaces and work on renovating old spaces. It’s a complex task, but it’s doable.”

School committee members were “very encouraged” by Locker’s presentation and the recommended plans, said Testa.

On Tuesday, March 30, at 6 p.m. the community is invited to a Zoom forum to ask questions about the plans and hear more about the renovations. The Zoom meeting link will be posted on the Warwick Public Schools website before Tuesday.

“This is your school, this is your community,” said Chairperson Judy Cobden. “I encourage kids to come and ask questions, because you might be occupying these schools. It’s a happy moment, it feels good to be moving forward again.”

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close all the schools in warwick and have kids attend private skuls. can

Saturday, March 27