School construction to heat up over summer

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WESTBROOK — School will soon be out for the school year, but Saccarappa Elementary School and Westbrook Middle School will be a busy place this summer.

Saccarappa Principal Brian Mazjanis said the school being vacant of students will allow workers from Arthur C. Dudley Contractor Builder Inc. to rehabilitate classrooms in the 1953 wing of the school so that students will be able to use those classrooms starting next fall. Work will also continue on the new section of school.

“So it doesn’t look like an old school and a new school” in one building, Mazjanis said, renovations in the existing building are “extensive.” 

The $27.3 million school expansion project, which voters approved in November 2016, is aimed at reducing the overcrowding at Saccarappa, Congin and Canal elementary schools and Westbrook Middle School. The school district is projected to have 2,019 students by the 2025-26 school year, which would include 122  additional students at the elementary schools, 136 students at the middle school and 73 students at the high school.

The Saccarappa project, which began last summer, includes the construction of classrooms, all with ADA compliant bathrooms; a gymnasium, cafeteria, music room and library; administrative offices; playground and playing fields; and a new off-street, drop-off area. Renovations include relocating the main office to the school’s new front entrance facing where the parking lot is now and converting the existing main office into work space for teachers.

Mazjanis said the new school will provide dedicated working space for all school staff. Due to a shortage of spaces now, for example, a class is taught in Mazjanis’s office.

“We have all pitched in to make it work. There certainly has not been an adequate amount of space for the amount of children,” Mazjanis said.

The additional classrooms at Saccarappa will allow the district to eliminate modular classrooms at the three elementary schools. The cafeteria will eliminate the need for students to eat lunch in their classrooms because the space can’t accomodate the student body and the gym will mean students won’t need to be bused to the other two elementary schools for physical education.

“This space is going to be incredible,” Lancia said looking at the space where the new cafeteria will go during a tour of the construction Monday.

Director of Operations Dean Flanagin said a group has started meeting to go over the design of the new playground and will seek input from students and teachers. Lancia said that space, as well as the playing fields, cafeteria and gymnasium are being designed for potential community use as well.

“One of the things we want is for this to be a community space,” Lancia said. “There is nothing in this part of the city for playgrounds, play spaces, meeting spaces. So this has been designed to be a hub for people.”

The new construction, when attached to the current school will create two open-air interior court yards that will be used as instructional spaces.

Lancia said the plan is to have the new construction complete by December, at which point staff will move into the new school space over Christmas break. Renovation of the remaining old school spaces would begin in January and the entire project is expect to be complete by next summer.

Mazjanis said he has been impressed with the way his staff and students have weathered the construction going on around them.

“The kids have been really adaptable and able to follow the lead of the teachers. They have been amazing when changes have had to occur,” he said. “I have a good staff that has been able to come together to make this work.”

Lancia said once construction is done at the schools, some students will be redistricted to the updated Saccarappa space from Canal and Congin, beginning in the 2019-20 school year. That will relieve the crowding in those schools and eliminate the need for portable classrooms, he said. The district plans to reach out to families during the middle of next school year about the redistricting plan.

The intent with the redistricting is to keep the elementary schools with the current grade configuration, which has been in place for the last six years.

“Now that we have had a group go through K-4, it did what we wanted it to do,” he said, adding the K-4 model in the elementary schools was designed to give students “a sense of place for a longer amount of time.”

Previously kindergarten, first- and second-grade students went to Pride’s Corner School or Saccarappa, third-, fourth- and fifth-graders went to Congin or Canal. When the Pride’s Corner School was closed in 2012, the elementary schools became K-4 and Westbrook Middle School absorbed the fifth-grade to become 5-8.

While the work on Saccarappa School continues, work at Westbrook Middle School is winding down. It will get an additional 12 classrooms to relieve congestion and provide new classroom space for foreign language and health teachers, as well as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) instruction. Westbrook Middle School Principal Laurie Wood said foreign language teachers lack their own work space and travel classroom-to-classroom for instruction. When the school was built in 2010, it was designed for 650 students. Enrollment now is closer to 800 students, Wood said.

The middle school project, which adds a third floor to the school’s classroom wing and expands the second floor, is expected to be completed by the end of July. 

Mazjanis said when the two construction projects are done, there will be plenty of space across the district based on future enrollment projections.

Lancia said there are no major school construction projects looming on the horizon, but “at some point we will have to pay some attention to the high school.” The high school was built in the 1950s, but has been added onto over the years, including a large addition in the 1990s.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews.

The construction project at Westbrook Middle School is aimed at reducing the overcrowding at the school. When it was built in 2010, it was designed for 650 students. There are close to 800 in the school today.

The construction at the middle school, which includes the construction of 12 new classroom spaces, is scheduled to be completed by the end of July.

Saccarappa Principal Brian Mazjanis, left, talks with Superintendent Peter Lancia in space that will become the school’s new gymnasium during a tour of construction Monday. The existing school does not have an adequate gymnasium, forcing the school to bus students for physical education classes.

The new Saccarappa School is expected to be up and running in time for the 2019-20 school year, but the new construction is scheduled to be complete in December. Students and staff will move into that space while the existing school gets rehabbed. 

Two interior courtyards are being added to Saccarappa School as part of a major construction/renovation project. They will be used as outdoor classrooms and  meeting spaces. 

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