Middle School project poised to move forward


By: Adam Leech
Date: Sunday, Jan 17, 2010
Publication: Portsmouth Herald

Although it may seem like a long time before today's second, third and fourth graders are walking into a newly renovated and expanded Portsmouth Middle School in September 2013, there is a sense of immediacy among project planners.

The City Council approved a $37.5 million bond for the new school in August, completing a complex decision-making process that took nearly six years. If the project goes as the draft project plan has scheduled, it will have been a decade from when the School Board determined the poor condition of the school needed to be addressed and the official opening.

By mid-February, the Joint Building Committee hopes to have chosen one of 11 companies that applied to become the project's construction manager — an admittedly aggressive time frame. However, that decision will set off a series of key benchmarks the committee hopes to meet before the end of the year.

Initially, the project will take two tracks, with the redevelopment of the Wentworth School into a ballfield on the fast track to completion as soon as October. One of the conditions upon receiving approval for building aid was that Alumni Field be replaced before it was built upon. Exchange City, the building's lone tenant, recently told the city it would vacate the property in January, rather than its initial March exit date.

Parrott Avenue construction will be a bit more complicated, as evidenced by the year of design and planning needed before the project breaks ground in December. With a construction manager on board, traffic studies and geotechnical work will take place before a schematic design in brought forth to the Joint Building Committee in April. The city land use board approval process will begin immediately afterwards.

There will be opportunities for feedback and input from the public over the course of the next year. The building committee created a communication subcommittee solely for the purpose of keeping the public updated on major developments, key decisions and potential changes.

"Clearly there's some key milestones there that warrant pretty broad communication as we make decisions," said Dexter Legg, School Board member and co-chairman of the building committee. "The milestones meeting will be held at City Hall and televised to make sure we get it the information out to the community."

Part of that communication will be a Web site created solely for the project. School Board member Lisa Sweet, who is chairing the communications subcommittee, said public awareness and action was a big part of moving that project forward and it's important to keep the public engaged throughout.

"We want to raise awareness about the importance of the new building and we really want to generate excitement about the project," said Sweet. "It's a big investment for the community ... We also recognize it's going to be difficult for everybody during construction, but we want to keep up that excitement even during the inconveniences."

One of the major decisions to be made hinges on whether a viable facility can be found elsewhere in the city where students can take classes during the project. The current schedule envisions a phased project that works around students: constructing the new facility, then moving the students to that building while the current school is renovated. If an alternative school site can be found, the project will be done all at once, which will complete the project sooner, but likely cost the same, according to Legg.

The decision on where the students will be taught is the board's to make. Legg said they hope to have that decision made before the end of February.

A draft copy of the project plan was presented to the building committee this week by Connecticut-based JCJ Architects project manager Doug Roberts and associate architect Lisa DeStefano of locally based DeStefano Architects. Roberts said the document is fluid and there are a number of variables that could change the schedule.

"It's a road map based on the information we know to date," said Roberts. "We're basically setting an expectation for both the design time as well as when we need key decisions from the Joint Building Committee."

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