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Stronger foundation needed for new Bester school

Soil testing reveals soft soil problem

July 17, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • A schematic design for a new Bester Elementary School has been approved by the Washington County Board of Education.
Washington County Public Schools

HAGERSTOWN — Soil testing on the grounds of the Bester Elementary School campus revealed soft soil that will require the school system to access a $1.6 million contingency fund to provide a stronger foundation for the new Bester school, project officials said Tuesday.

The foundation will need supports that reach 20 to 25 feet into the ground to bear the weight of the new school, Rob Rollins, Washington County Public Schools’ director of facilities planning and development, said after Tuesday’s school board meeting.

In an email to The Herald-Mail, Rollins said the soil conditions were anticipated and are inherent to the geological history of the site.

According to schematic documents, the school system has $1,597,000 budgeted as a contingency in case there were soil issues.

The Board of Education unanimously approved a schematic design for the new Bester during Tuesday’s board meeting at the Central Office off Commonwealth Avenue. The schematic design was to be submitted to the Maryland Public School Construction Program for review and approval by July 14, according to presentation documents.

Construction of the new school, slated to open in August 2014, was estimated to cost $17,253,015 and take 23 months to complete, according to the feasibility study. The estimated cost increases to $19,065,787 when including contingency money for inflation and unexpected problems with the soil or construction, school facilities officials said in June.

Project officials are discussing solutions to support the foundation, including micropiles and geopiers.

School board member Donna Brightman asked what was used at the neighboring assisted-living center. Rollins said he believed caissons were used for that project.

Rollins said he believes micropiles — cylinders of compacted gravel and concrete — would work, as well as caissons, and would be less expensive. Caissons can be used in wet or dry conditions to carry the weight of a building to a depth that can support the building, but are generally used for taller buildings, such as a high-rise, Rollins wrote in an email.

According to the project feasibility study, caissons were used in the 1965 and 1988 additions to Bester.

Now, and then

Project officials also reviewed the campus layout and features for the new school.

The existing entrance to Bester is off South Potomac Street. At the new Bester, parents will enter from South Potomac Street and buses will use a new Mill Street entrance.

Students will continue attending Bester until the new school, to be built behind the current school, is done. Then the current school will be demolished.

School system and City of Hagerstown officials are negotiating about whether Ray Street needs to be extended to Mill Street, Rollins said.

In reaction to concern about the play areas being close to South Potomac Street, the design includes fencing between the street and fields, board member Jacqueline Fischer said.

The two-story classroom wing will hold special-needs students and grades prekindergarten through second on the ground floor, and grades three to five on the second floor.

The design leaves room for an addition to the two-story classroom wing that could add eight classrooms, said Bridget Ahmad with Grimm and Parker Architects.

The design calls for a standard elementary school-sized gym, but there’s a chance it could be a full-size gym available for community use, “pending funding and county approval and their willingness to partner” on the gym, Rollins said.

Between the classroom wing and art and music rooms is an enclosed courtyard with a hallway on the east side to give several classes a more direct route to the cafeteria.

Project officials are considering a vegetative roof system that a subcontractor would maintain for two years, at which time the drought-resistant plantings should be established, Ahmad said.

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