Aging Academy: School building doesn't meet needs, studies show

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School building doesn't meet needs, studies show

by Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, October 28, 2011

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Hampton Academy Principal David O'Connor shows off the non-functional boys locker room used only for storage during a public tour of the school Tuesday night. [Photo by Ionna Raptis]

HAMPTON —Parents who took a tour of Hampton Academy on Tuesday said it was apparent why school officials are taking a hard look at either renovating the existing building for $26 million or constructing a new middle school on land it owns off Towle Farm Road at an estimated cost of $28 million.

The current middle school, which was constructed in 1939, has serious ventilation problems, doesn't meet fire code and doesn't meet requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to studies done on the building by an architecture and engineering firm.

A small gym inside the school doesn't meet regulations for competitive sports, causing students to have to go to Marston School to play games, and there is no place big enough in the building to hold a school-wide assembly.

Hampton Academy Principal David O'Connor took residents on a tour of the facility Tuesday immediately before an informational meeting to update the public on the work the school has done studying the building.

The School Board held the meeting to generate public feedback as it decides whether it would be best to renovate the school or build anew. Other options available, the board said, are to spend $7 million to bring the existing building up to code or do nothing at all.

The roughly 40 people in attendance were split on the best choice, but all agreed that doing nothing was not a viable option.

Daniel Bison, AIA architect from Harriman Architects and Engineers, said the firm performed several studies on the building with the first one looking at what needs to be done to bring the building up to code.

Bison said the school was built in 1939 and there were several additions over the years with the last one occurring in 1976. However the construction done back then does not meet the needs of today, he said.

Bison said there are numerous mechanical, electrical and HVAC improvements needed to bring the building up to snuff.

Other issues brought to the board's attention include a variety of fire code and Americans with Disabilities Act noncompliance issues.

On the top of the fire code list: the building does not contain a sprinkler system.

"We're grandfathered here, but having a grandfather is not going to explain things if there is a fire here," O'Connor said.

Bison said a second study was conducted to determine if the facility has adequate space, according to the standards set by the state Department of Education.

It does not.

O'Connor said the building is well maintained, but it doesn't fit the students' needs or state recommendations for middle schools.

O'Connor said there's insufficient space for a library, a non-regulation gymnasium and no designated space for the music program, which has nearly two-thirds of the students as participants.

Currently band is being taught in the old shop room while chorus is taught on the cafeteria stage.

O'Connor said students do not have adequate lockers, and teachers have no storage space in their classrooms.

There is a boys bathroom on the second floor that school officials call the "gang room" because there are only three stalls and it usually has a line of students waiting to use it.

O'Connor said there are also several unusable spaces — including several rooms in the building's so-called "dungeon."

These rooms include a large dirt-floored room once used as a bomb shelter. It's the same location where black mold was found several years ago and removed.

Bison said if the existing building is renovated, it would need a 10,000-square-foot addition that would include a gymnasium.

The rest of the building, he said, would basically need to be gutted and renovated.

The other option on the table is to build a new school on a 30-acre property the school district owns off Towle Farm Road. If the school district were to go that route, the town's Parks and Recreation Department has already expressed interest in using the academy building as a community center, which would require renovation.

SAU 90 Superintendent Kathleen Murphy said there are plans to hold another public forum in the spring.

Hampton School Board Chairman Rosemary Lamers said the board has not yet decided which direction — renovation or building anew — is best.

Murphy said no proposal will go before voters for at least two years because there is currently a moratorium on school building aid from the state. Murphy said it's advantageous to wait until the moratorium is lifted to put a plan on the town warrant because Hampton could be eligible to be reimbursed up to 30 percent of the cost for the project.

Also in two years, she said, the bonds for the other existing school renovation projects — Marston and Centre schools — will

be paid off.

The Hampton Academy music room. [Photo by: Ioanna Raptis]
The size of split-lockers at Hampton Academy is a concern. [Photo by: Ioanna Raptis]
The Hampton Academy gym and stage. [Photo by: Ioanna Raptis]
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