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Franklin referenda address middle, high school space needs

Officials: Growth demands changes

Oct. 31, 2012

Franklin - Security, traffic flow and right-sizing educational space are important elements of three questions posed in the school district referendum to be decided Nov. 6.

Explaining what's at the core of the more than 20 points in the referendum questions, which together represent more than $50 million in improvements to the middle and high schools, leaders in the high school, middles school and building and grounds department said the proposed upgrades address current and future needs.

Questions 1 and 2

Proposals for the high school include a broad range of enhancements such as expanded academic space for science, music and visual arts as well as a new auditorium, remodeled corridors, a secure main entrance, more parking and updated mechanicals. Principal Mike Nowak and Mark Cloutier, the district's manager of building and grounds, explained the needs.

"Our main entrance is secure," Nowak said, "but we are doing some expansion out there so that's why it is part of the project."

Cloutier said the school wants to set a certain tone.

"When the build-out occurs, we will need to recreate the secure entrance," he said. "We want it to be welcoming, but we also want visitors to go directly into the office."

He noted that the office will be better situated so employees there can see those coming into the building.

Noting that enrollment has been projected to increase from 1,447 to 1,850, Nowak said expansion and renovation is essential. There has been an increase in the number of students taking music and arts programs. Expansion also would help the school develop instruction delivered by specialized technology.

"It's really about access to technology," Nowak said. "It's also about flexible space so that you can use it for different purposes."

He said parking is so tight for students, teachers and visitors that it spills onto Drexel Avenue.

"Obviously, we prefer to have everyone park on our property," he said, noting that it is as much about safety as it is about not disturbing adjoining neighbors.

The upgrading heating, cooling and other mechanical systems is needed because the school can no longer keep repairing the current systems, Cloutier said.

"We need to have fewer boilers that are more energy efficient," he said. "We also have some rooftop systems that are in need of replacement."

Cloutier said about 15 percent of the flooring in the school is made with asbestos. It's still safe, but it makes sense to replace it while other renovation work is occuring.

Nowak and Cloutier pointed to the absence of a traditional auditorium. The flat floor makes it impossible to see beyond the first rows, they said.

"An auditorium is something the district feels would be beneficial not only to the needs of the schools, but also to the community," Nowak said.

Speaking for the high school and the middle school needs, Cloutier said the schools are well utilized by a number of outside groups that need the space.

"The schools are packed when school is not in session," he said.

Question 3

Forest Park Middle School shares a few of the same type of space limitations and needs as the high school. The referendum proposes a new secure main entrance and expanded parking as well as developing a three-station gym with bleachers while converting the current crowded gym into other space, including space to accommodate a growing music program.

Chris Reuter, associate principal, said the 1970s-style architecture with separate pods of classrooms for seventh and eighth grade is not as troublesome as the low-ceiling gym, where special rules allow ricochet volleyballs to still be in play.

"The gym presents a challenge because there are times when multiple classes are in there at a time," Reuter said. "For home basketball games, the audience sits in folding chairs, and parents often have to view the games standing just inside the entrance."

A new gym, he said, would allow for a needed expansion of the music program into the current gym space. He said 360 of the school's 683 students study choir, orchestra, band and world music.

The proposal also calls for an expanded cafeteria. Reuter said that added space could work as additional academic space when teachers want to take students out of the confined pod areas.

The most immediately visible issue, Reuter said, is the troublesome parking and traffic flow at the beginning and end of each school day. Thee proposal is for an additional 11 parking stalls and dedicated traffic lanes.

"The parking and the traffic flow is not good for parents or buses," Reuter said. "Everybody's in a hurry, and it is a safety issue. We have drivers letting out kids away from the school, and they are walking in the same path as the buses."

Cloutier, who has seen his share of the physical demands on the schools, said the proposed improvements are for everyone's benefit.

"We create an environment that is educationally sound as well as one that makes sense for the community," he said.

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