TCS reviews middle school proposals

Published 9:14 pm Monday, November 1, 2010

After three hours of presentations from architectural firms, Chreseal Threadgill was ready.

“I’m going to write a $9 million check,” the assistant Troy City Schools Superintendent joked Monday night.

For Threadgill, who only this year moved to the central office from the principal’s office at Charles Henderson Middle School, hearing proposals for a new middle school was exciting; for the members of the school board, the called meeting was almost overwhelming.

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“I’m very impressed with the presentations,” said Dr. Judson Edwards. “They certainly gave us a lot of information.”

Three firms – McKee and Associates; Seay Seay and Litchfield; and Godwin Jones – offered proposals on how the school board could best utilize the $9 million it expects to receive through bond refinancing to construct a much-needed new middle school.

The proposals were as varied as the firms.

McKee and Associates, whose local work includes the Troy Recreation Complex, the Hank Jones Early Education Center at Troy Elementary and Fraternity Village at Troy University, among numerous other projects, brings an extensive background in school construction. “We’ve completed $800 million in school construction since 1981,” said Sewell McKee. “Eighty percent of our work is with school boards in Alabama, and I don’t put that up here to brag, but for a reason.”

McKee said the firm’s extensive experience in designing school buildings would prove cost effective as the school board works through its middle school design. “Our staff is used to putting school buildings together,” he said.

The firm offered a proposal for a new school on a yet-to-be determined site, since the school board has not selected a new site for the facility. The design proposal included two classroom pods, to segregate sixth-graders from seventh- and eighth-graders, complete with separate break areas; a four-sided access opportunity, to allow for eventual growth and bus access; and additional classroom space for growth, as well as a more thoughtful approach to design of science labs and similar facilities. It did not include a football field.

Stressing that the budget set forth by the city schools is extremely tight, McKee responded to a question about “cheapest materials” emphatically. “No sir, I don’t build cheap schools,” he said. “I wouldn’t be asked back if I did. Now cheap and cost-effective are two different words, and you don’t get a job in budget in one big swoop. You do it by micromanaging.”

Frank Litchfield of Seay, Seay and Litchfield offered a more aesthetic approach to the design of the school, emphasizing the firm’s team approach to design; LEEDS certification for energy-efficiency in design; and long-standing relationships with existing school systems, such as Montgomery Academy. The firm also renovated and expanded Ross Hall on the Auburn Campus and recently constructed Blount Elementary in Montgomery, one of five buildings it completed for the Montgomery County Board of Education. The firm also is designing the dining hall on the Troy campus.

“We are client-focused rather than project focused,” he said. “We’re not just trying to get a project from you. We want to develop a relationship.”

The firm presented a proposal for a building designed with large amounts of natural light, including high ceilings in the central hallways; a large common interior break area; and an enhanced cafeteria, as well as plenty of opportunities for additional growth.

“We look forward to working with you and learning more about what you seek in your school,” he said.

Chuck Jones, a principal in Godwin-Jones, has the most recent experience with the school board, his firm having most recently completed the renovation of the National Guard Armory into the central office on the Elba Highway. The firm also oversaw the renovation of the Charles Henderson High School gym, the conversion of Parklane Shopping Center into the CGI Center of Excellence and is the architect for the new Troy Public Library.

The firm brought two proposals: the first for a new school built on a yet-to-be purchased site and the second for a new school built on the existing site. The reason, Jones said, was to minimize on the cost of purchasing land, so that the limited budget funds could be invested in the facility itself.

The Godwin-Jones proposal called for constructing the middle school at the bottom of the hill at the existing property, utilizing the grading to build a two-story structure that would connect to the existing gymnasium and band room.

“We think there is a way to put a full middle school on that site, keep you in school and in your budget, and give you a higher quality building,” he said.

Ultimately, Jones said, “the key with an architect is service … and what we’re telling you is we’re going to offer you a higher level of service.”

Dr. Linda Felton-Smith, superintendent, said the proposals had provided plenty of food for thought. “We want to explore all the options,” she said after the meeting.

The board members will review the options and reconvene, most likely in a called meeting, to discuss and vote, she said.