Johnson City Schools’ ambitious construction projects have advanced from ideas to dozers to near completion.
Facilities and Instruction Supervisor Dave Chupa gave Board of Education members and City Commissioners tours of the Science Hill High School campus and Fairmont Elementary School on Thursday and Friday. Members of the Johnson City Press tagged along on Friday.
The roughly $26 million expansion and renovation project on the Science Hill campus gives the appearance of a small city being built. Combined, the project will create nearly 178,000 square feet of newly constructed area and about 11,400 square feet of renovated area. This entire space will be served by a new $1.6 million central HVAC plant to be located near Freedom Hall.
Renovations include the construction of a new ninth-grade academy, which is now projected to open its doors to students in October. The two-story academic building, which was under roof in late spring, will provide a total of 64 classrooms, of which 28 are dedicated to ninth-graders with the remaining rooms to be used as 10/12 classrooms.
“At one time we thought we’d be in here when school started (Aug. 4),” Chupa said Friday while looking out a window at one side of the massive concrete and steel structure. “There was three wings (academic). That’s down to two, and the existing third wing will be demolished once this project is complete.”
Chupa and Tommy Burleson, Johnson City’s construction agent, have kept the Board of Education and City Commission up on the progress, and both have reported that weather has been a factor in slowing construction. Both men also have reported slight delays because workers are still locating existing fiber optic cable that must be dug up and relocated.
The academic component’s exterior has been designed with red brick to match existing buildings, though they have a lighter colored “banding” on them. The building includes a landscaped outdoor courtyard, and the classrooms are each about 800 square feet.
“The classroom ceilings are 10 feet in height, and it really does give a feeling of more space,” Chupa said. “The green space in the middle also will be used for outdoor classrooms.”
Other new construction on campus includes a cafeteria, administration building and multi-purpose/gymnasium building.
The two-story educational wing is being built to the west side of the existing building. The new cafeteria, which was intentionally built to quite roomy proportions and can seat 800-900 students, will play host to color guard and cheerleading practice, for example, when no other space is available. The large room has two entry ways that curve inward toward the center of the structure and a horseshoe-shaped roof overhead.
While a few administrative functions will remain at the existing location, the majority of these functions will get a new home at what will become a new entry point for students. The new offices are located directly across from the bridge that crosses John Exum Parkway.
The Board of Education/City Commission Facilities Committee recently talked about the need to make repairs on the bridge. Outer edges of the concrete have deteriorated, and the steel mesh fencing along the side has been torn open, creating several large openings.
The gymnasium, or multi-purpose building, should be ready in December, Chupa said. This is a stand-alone physical education and recreation facility that will accommodate ninth-grade programs as well as community activities.
Meanwhile, Chupa escorted members of the Press, as well as Board of Education Secretary Sheila Cox, on a tour of the school system’s newest gem, Fairmont Elementary School. It is the only school in the system with geothermal heating and cooling. It also has the most advanced security system of any school.
The new 93,000-square-foot $14.3 million school is expected to be open for the first day of school on Aug. 4, and students, parents and teachers are in for a treat.
“It’s like a high school, it really is,” Cox said. “These children are so lucky.”
She’s right. The school sports a high school-size gymnasium with a solid oak floor.
“It was designed this way, and we always knew it could be used by Science Hill after hours,” Chupa said. “Now we have three gyms; this gym, the old gym at Science Hill and the new multipurpose facility on the Science Hill campus.”
The old Fairmont Elementary School was built in 1957 to handle 350 students, and last school year it was bulging at the seams with 468. The new school has been built to accommodate up to 715 students.
“We’re thrilled,” said Fairmont Principal Carol McGill as she threw her arms around Cox while the two stood surveying one of the classrooms. “Thank you all for making this possible.”
It’s down to the final touches at the new school, at least on the inside. Workers on Friday were setting temperature controls, shining up the new kitchen equipment, plugging in and testing brand new computers and testing the curtain divider that separates the cafeteria from a downsized theater in the round.
“Most classrooms have smart boards,” Chupa said while stepping around bright new chairs, tables and boxes of school equipment. “The arm swings out and the device allows projection onto a white board. You can bring up the Internet with it, show video and other things.”
All classrooms are equipped with restroom facilities as well as roomy bookshelves with oversized windows above to let in natural light. Students in classrooms on the second floor can go in and out a door that leads to an outdoor plaza and large skylights let the sun do its thing on the massive second-floor hallway.
“Parents will be happy to know that this school’s security is state of the art,” Chupa said. “It’s equipped with numerous video cameras and a system to allow parents access. The doors lock automatically. It probably has the best security of any building in the system.”