NEWPORT — The current Rogers High School is a series of multiple one-story buildings and pods, some of them connected by long corridors, sprawled across the site on Wickham Road and Old Fort Road.
Architect Mark Rhoades with SLAM Collaborative Inc., which is tasked with designing a new high school for the site, told community members Thursday evening they want to compress the high school by going vertical.
The proposed school would have 217,700 square feet, which would be a reduction from the current 238,450-square-foot high school. The current high school has “too many doors and too many corridors,” Rhoades said.
The new high school plan unveiled this week shows a four-story building block parallel to Wickham Road that will house the academic classrooms and have two elevators besides the stairwells. The connected two-story building section will feature a new gymnasium, cafeteria, media room, Block Box Theater and some of the career and technical spaces.
The theater could be divided with a movable soundproof wall, thus converting it into two separate rooms. The band could be playing in one room, the chorus practicing in the other room, and they won’t hear each other, Rhoades said.
The cafeteria and media center would be adjacent to an open courtyard at the interior of the two-story building, thus providing more natural light, he said.
The second floor around the gymnasium will have a weight room, something the current high school does not have. There would also be a JROTC room, a health room and guidance office on the second floor.
There would be flex classrooms in the high school adaptable for different programs, such as construction technology, marine trades and carpentry. This will be a comprehensive high school, with the career and technical programs integrated into the overall layout, Rhoades stressed.
The life cycle of a modern high school is 24/7, with amenities of the school open to community organizations and residents, he said. The four-story block could be shut down, while the two-story block with its amenities could remain open to the public when school is not in session, he said.
Newest design is a significant change from the previous plan
This new plan is a major change from the conceptual plan discussed at the end of June, when it was proposed to save the current gymnasium and Newport Area Career & Technical Center building. That would have spread the school layout too much, requiring more expensive concrete and more corridor space, Rhoades said.
“We talked about keeping the gym,” he said. “It’s not such a great idea.”
There are structural issues with the “W-shaped roof,” among some other problems, he said.
SLAM is designing a school with open spaces and large interior windows so students can see what their peers are doing. Rhodes cited the Colonial Kitchen, where culinary arts students prepare meals for the public. That is something that should be seen, he said.
The Colonial Kitchen would have a terrace overlooking the new main athletic field, which will be approximately where the current athletic field now is.
Because of the building compression, there will be enough open space to build an additional athletic field near where a cell tower now stands, Rhoades said.
The interior spaces in the new school will be adaptive, so they can meet the changing needs of education for the next 50 years and beyond, he said.
The two dozen people present for the community meeting applauded after Rhoades’ presentation of the plan. One woman said she was “depressed” by previous plans, but not by this one.
New Rogers High School will be energy efficient
The new school will be designed to be energy efficient, with enough roof space and structural capacity and wiring to put in solar panels to provide all the school’s energy needs.
“You would need additional dollars for the solar panels,” Rhoades said.
SLAM also is overseeing a feasibility study to determine whether 140 geothermal wells can be put in to help with the heating and cooling of the building. The ground temperature deep down is 52 to 55 degrees all year round, which gives a geothermal system a head-start, no matter what the season is.
Paying for geothermal also would require additional funding.
The schematic design of the building will continue until late September, and then design development will take another three or four months after that, Rhodes said. Construction documents will be drawn up in early 2022.
Gilbane Inc. of Providence has the construction management contract and will be putting much of the project out to bid by subcontractors.
When construction begins in late winter or early spring of 2022, the auditorium and gymnasium would be torn down for make way for the new high school that would open in September 2024. Alternative gym space must be found during the construction period, the planners said.
Keeping costs down is very much on the minds of the SLAM architects, who include Catherine Ellithorpe, the project manager, as well as Joseph DeSanti of Downes Construction Co., the “owner’s project manager” overseeing the school projects on behalf of the city and School Department.
The School Department administrators led by School Superintendent Colleen Burns Jermain, School Committee members Rebecca Bolan and Louisa Boatwright, who co-chair the 22-member School Building Committee, the owner’s representative, Gilbane and the SLAM design team discuss the project daily, Rhoades said
Automotive, cosmetology spaces could be cut
There is a strong desire in the community to retain the automotive and cosmetology programs, but those career programs are no longer recognized by the Rhode Island Department of Education.
That might change soon, say school officials, because people in the auto repair business say there is an ongoing need for trained automotive technicians, who can command salaries in the $100,000 range.
There is not enough funding in the school bond approved by voters for the automotive and cosmetology spaces, or for the School Department administrative offices now in the plan. Those three spaces will be included in the design as “add alternates,” meaning they will be built if the city can raise the needed funding through grants or private donors.
The priority among those three needs will be automotive first, cosmetology second, and administrative offices third, Superintendent Jermain said at the meeting.
“I may be working from a Winnebago,” she said.
The voters approved a $106.33 million school bond to finance two school projects on Nov. 3, 2020. The School Building Authority, which is part of RIDE, approved plans for a new high school that would cost $98,862,667 and a Pell Elementary School addition that would cost $7,472,300, according to a notification letter sent by SBA School Construction Coordinator Joseph da Silva in early May 2020.
That approved allocation by RIDE was for a new high school with 169,875 square feet of space, which is just not big enough for the high school programming the community wants, according to the community and professional planners.