While the construction of Forest Middle School’s new gymnasium is a few weeks behind schedule, the rest of the $24 million addition is on track to be completed in time for the 2020-21 school year.
A tour of the active construction site at Forest Middle School on Tuesday was facilitated by Mac Duis, chief operations officer for the school district, and Tim Burge, project manager with Skanska, the project development and construction group overseeing the project.
Four school board members attended Tuesday’s tour: Susan Mele, Georgia Hairston, Marcus Hill and John Hicks. Bedford County Public Schools Superintendent Doug Schuch, Bedford County Administrator Robert Hiss, Deputy County Administrator Amanda Kaufman, Bedford Board of Supervisors member Edgar Tuck and the project’s architect, Ken Thacker, also participated.
Hairston and Mele said it was their first visit to the site, but Hicks said he’d attended some of the past tours, including one in October 2019.
“They’ve made a lot of progress,” Hicks said. “It’s gonna be nice. I’m glad it’s on time and not over budget anyway, hopefully it’ll be under.”
Before leaving the site, Hill helped lay a few bricks on the exterior of the addition.
The school board members toured the new two-story addition, which includes a new main entrance, classroom space, a new gymnasium, fitness center, multi-purpose rooms, a new courtyard and a glass-enclosed bridge that will connect the second story of the addition to the original building.
According to Burge, an issue with roof trusses delayed construction on the new gym, but the current plan to open the rest of the addition in time for the start of the 2020-21 school year and the gym a few weeks later has been approved by a building inspector.
With the addition of a new full-size gym, the school’s old gym will be divided and used for a band room, storage and activity space.
According to plans for the project from VMDO, the architecture firm working on the project, the new addition will eliminate the school’s reliance on mobile classroom units, which are currently being used.
During an October 2018 meeting, the board of supervisors voted to approve a $22.5 million bond for the project and authorized the school division to use $1.7 million in funds that had not been used after the completion of the new Liberty Middle School.
The new addition is expected to increase the school’s square footage to around 162,000 square feet, an increase of more that 60%. The new space should allow the school to accommodate about 1,200 students. The school currently serves more than 900 students.
School board member Hill expressed his excitement over the ways the school’s new features would be used during instruction. For example, a water feature that will run through the new courtyard and be filled by rainwater runoff from the roof could be used for science instruction. Additionally, an outdoor performance space will be used by the music and drama classes for performances and stage shows.
The tour made a stop at the bridge that will connect the new addition to the original building on the second floor. While the bridge is currently open, Duis said it will be enclosed in glass and wide enough to be used as flexible teaching space.
“I think the ‘outdoor’ classroom opportunities here are really, really terrific,” Duis said.
Hairston expressed the potential safety concern of having students sit and be taught in a glass-enclosed space, but she was assured the glass will be tempered, or treated with chemicals and heat to make it stronger, and the courtyard below would be closed off on the end so no one would be able to enter it without first checking in at the main office.
Burge said he’s thinking of the project in three phases. The first phase was getting the school ready for and able to operate during construction, which included creating solutions for student drop off as well as parking for school staff and construction workers. That phase was completed before students returned in August for the 2019-2020 school year.
The second phase is in progress now: completing the construction of the new addition. And the third phase will be completing the exterior landscaping and the newly designed bus loop that will allow traffic to flow more smoothly.
All three phases are on track to be completed by August of this year, he said.
Burge said immediate next steps include pouring the concrete in the new gym, which is scheduled for Thursday, and completing the roof in the next few weeks, weather pending. Landscaping in the new courtyard will be one of the last things to be completed, Duis said.
Mele said Burge has been addressing the school board with updates at its meetings since the project began, and should bring another update to the board’s next regular monthly meeting at 5 p.m. March 5.