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BOE approves renovations to Western Heights Middle School

April 07, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • Western Heights Middle School Principal Michael Kuhaneck explains how the basement of the school will be renovated over the summer to increase the number and sizes of classrooms due to increased enrollment.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

Some students at Western Heights Middle School have to walk through an empty room or a classroom with students to get to their own classroom.

The school’s Spanish and French teacher’s desk is in a narrow storage room that exits onto the hallway. Her classroom is next door.

Band class is held on the school’s auditorium stage, said Principal Mike Kuhaneck, explaining the layout during a Wednesday tour of the 1300 Marshall St. school’s ground floor.

Those conditions will improve with renovations to the West End school’s ground floor, expected to be substantially complete in time for classrooms to be ready for the first day of the next school year on Aug. 21, school system officials said.

The work will result in larger classrooms and improved traffic flow.

The Washington County Board of Education last week voted unanimously to approve a $597,000 contract for renovations to approximately 10,740 square feet. The contract was awarded to Callas Contractors, a Hagerstown-area firm that submitted the lowest bid of six companies.

The work will begin after school lets out in June, said Rob Rollins, director of facilities planning and development.

The renovation on the lower level of the two-story school will help offset a growing student enrollment, Kuhaneck said.

The middle school, which had 680 students in October 2011, now has 740 students, Kuhaneck said. That’s almost a 9 percent increase.

Enrollment has increased by 25 students since Sept. 30, when the fall enrollment report listed the school at 715 sixth- through eighth-graders.

It is projected that Western Heights will have 747 students in the next school year, according to an enrollment report prepared for the April 2 board meeting.

“So we’re growing pretty rapidly, actually,” Kuhaneck said. “With the increased students, we also need increased space.”

“In addition to that, a lot of the space we have down here currently is just useless space. It’s storage space, or ... existing old offices” that don’t support classroom needs, Kuhaneck said.

The lower floor used to house Antietam Academy’s middle school, but that program moved to the new Antietam Academy building on West Oak Ridge Drive, Rollins said.

The school, built in 1976, has a state-rated capacity of 828 students, according to a facilities fact sheet.

That capacity does not include the section that was used for Antietam Academy and will need to be recalculated for the school as a whole, Rollins said.

Part of Western Heights’ lower level was redesigned at some point to accommodate the academy students, so the spaces were “a little smaller, a little chopped up,” Rollins said.

The renovation will create larger classrooms for middle-school classes, he said.

The school’s gym and weightlifting room also are on the lower level, but will not be affected by the renovation, Kuhaneck said.

Other space on that floor currently used by students includes classrooms for art, technical education, science and math intervention, he said.

The renovation will include some demolition work as wide hallways are narrowed, old offices are absorbed to create larger classroom spaces, and new hallways are created, he said.

The renovation will improve traffic flow and provide direct access from classrooms to hallways that some classes don’t have now, improving emergency exits, Kuhaneck said.

A foreign language classroom will be enlarged so the teacher’s desk can be moved into the classroom, he said.

An area with two offices, one classroom and a wide hallway will become two regular-sized classrooms with a narrower hallway, he said.

Band and chorus will move to the lower level, with the chorus class to use a room that already has risers, Kuhaneck said.

The band class will move to a classroom, now used for general music, that will about double in size by the end of the renovation, according to a description from Kuhaneck. The band class could have about 85 students, he said.

Currently, students attending a math intervention class might walk through a science classroom to get to their class, or vice versa, Kuhaneck said. A hallway will be constructed around the math room so students will be able to access either room without walking through the other, he said.

A large storage room could become an additional intervention room for students who need extra help, Kuhaneck said.

Art students now walk through an empty room to get to class. A renovation of the area leading to the classroom will create new classroom space and a hallway with direct access to the art classroom, Kuhaneck said.

The renovation also will include reconditioning restrooms to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Rollins said.

An office for one of the assistant principals and a suite for development of a virtual high school also will be created on that floor, Rollins said. The suite will have two rooms, one larger than the other, he said.

Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox recently told the Washington County Board of Commissioners that the school system will create its own course work for a virtual high school, starting with algebra and English.

Wilcox said it would be similar to some gaming applications youths play today. The program would use gaming techniques and interactive educational software, he said.

Once the renovation work is done, the school still will have eight classrooms within the area to undergo work, Rollins said. But instead of having makeshift classrooms with poor traffic circulation, the school will have eight classrooms that can at least house regular-size classes, school system officials said.

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