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Architects pitch Ringgold Middle plans

| Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, 7:23 a.m.

After two architects pitched preliminary plans for a new Ringgold Middle School during a facilities committee meeting, school board President Mariann Bulko said the board will vote Wednesday to hire one in an effort to move forward with the project.

“I was told, ‘do not flinch, do not blink, don't look over my shoulder ... just move ahead,'” Bulko said after nearly two hours of presentations.

“I'm trying to do something that has not been done as president of the board. We've been saying for years that we were going to build a new middle school. I'm really hoping that this will unite the district.”

She said the students are united.

“They want this, but it's the parents and adults that are fighting,” Bulko said. “We have seven municipalities that make up Ringgold. That's the biggest challenge, bringing everyone together, and we have some board members that are trying to divide it even further.”

Hayes Large Architects LLP and HHSDR Architects and Engineers are competing for the job.

Hayes Large opened the meeting by submitting its plan for the grades five through eight building, which will be near the high school.

Both plans would be at the same site.

The cost estimate for the Hayes Large building is $26.2 million, including construction costs, $21.3 million, and other costs, $4.9 million. The size would be 126,000 square feet.

The building would be nestled into the downslope, with people entering on the top level where grades five and six would be housed. Grades seven and eight would be on the lower level in an effort to separate grade clusters.

“Each grade level would have its own restrooms, science labs, special education classrooms and computer labs,” said S. Dwight Knouse, Hayes Large executive director. “We're highlighting in the building our effective organization of spaces with the grade level clusters.”

Knouse said Hayes Large's plan promoted good circulation of students, use of daylight and connection to outdoors with every classroom having windows, safety and security, and the proper zoning for after-hours use.

It would include 28 standard classrooms, four special education classrooms, eight planning/pupil support rooms, four media rooms and four science labs.

It would include a 10,000-square-foot gymnasium, a large group instruction room on each level, cafeteria, prep kitchen, and band and chorus rooms.

Expansion would be possible.

“We really want to make sure we bring each decision before the board,” Knouse said. “It's important that we build what you want and allow for the building that you want and need. Don't build what you don't need.”

The plan calls for changes to the property.

“It's important to make this a true campus,” Knouse said. “It will be a campus that allows for a student safety zone. Anyone commuting between the high school and middle school building won't have to cross any lanes of traffic.”

The plan calls for separate pickup and dropoff zones for buses and parents.

“This will allow traffic to be separated,” Knouse said. “We'll add a new parking lot with approximately 220 spaces to the east side of the campus behind the high school, near what would be the parent dropoff and pickup zone.”

In all, 450 to 480 parking spaces would be available on campus.

To allow for building construction, tennis courts that sit in the northwest corner of the property will be moved to the south end, below Joe Montana Stadium. The work is included in the Hayes Large cost estimate.

The building, if Hayes Large gets the job, will include masonry bearing walls, concrete masonry instead of brick, exposed structure in the gymnasium, library and possibly the lobbies, an economical HVAC system, and a low-slope roof.

Brad Furey, a member of the Hayes Large team, has 15 years experience as chief of facilities with the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Knouse called him a state “PlanCon expert.”

Any plan cannot go forward until Ringgold begins the PlanCon procedure. PlanCon, short for Planning and Construction Workbook, is a set of forms and procedures used to apply for state reimbursement for projects.

“As soon as a decision is made, we'd proceed through design development,” Furey said.

“We'd get solid cost information and move forward based on availability of reimbursement. There's a need to be ready when the moratorium on PlanCon ends June 30.”

“With Brad on the team, we're able to have good advice on state funding,” Knouse said.

Locally, Hayes Large designed Bentworth Middle School and Sto-Rox Middle School, and a school in the Yough School District.

Another view

HHSDR was represented by Hayden Greer, a familiar part of Ringgold school board meetings.

He highlighted HHSDR's history with the district and its position as the No. 1 ranked firm in projects under construction or in design in the tri-state area by the Pittsburgh Builders Exchange.

“That's something we're really proud of. That, and our relationship and familiarity with the Ringgold School District,” Hayden said.

Hayden led off his presentation with photos of HHSDR's recently completed project for the Chartiers-Houston School District, which included a new addition and fieldhouse facilities at the new stadium complex.

The HHSDR plan called for cost estimates ranging from $28.2 million to $29.9 million. Reimbursement calculations totaled $8,285,300. Hayes Large did not have reimbursement figures included in its presentation.

Reimbursement through Leadership in Energy and Environment Design – an ecology-oriented building certification program run under the auspices of the U.S. Green Building Council – could reach $9,073,830, according to HHSDR.

Other factors that could increase the estimated costs are improvements to Ram Drive, replacement of the tennis courts (estimated $300,000), and a second exit to Route 136.

While HHSDR's plan was largely similar to that of Hayes Large, there were differences.

Hayden said in terms of security, he would consider bulletproof glass for the office area.

Hayes Large officials said extra security was among items that would be discussed later in the design phase.

HHSDR's plan included a timeline for project completion. The measure calls for design and agency approvals, receiving and awarding of bids to be completed beginning as early as August through May 2014.

Construction could begin in July 2014 and completed by April 2016.

The building, the larger of the two plans, would be a two-story building with the lower level housing the office and grades five and six. Grades seven and eight would be on the second floor.

The design includes 36 regular classrooms, seven special education rooms, three science labs, three computer labs, and one LGI room. Each classroom is approximately 850 square feet, Hayden said.

At the onset of the meeting, Bulko said order would prevail. Each board member was permitted to ask questions after each presentation. The architects also fielded questions from the public.

In the wake of a deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn., security was a key issue Monday.

Hayden said he would include bulletproof glass in the office area of an HHSDR-designed school, while Knouse said he wouldn't include as much glass near the main entrance.

“Look what happened there,” Knouse said of Newtown. “There was a buzzer system, but the shooter shot through the glass. I'd eliminate big panes of glass.”

Director Larry Mauro asked about first-floor windows and measures taken to ensure student safety.

“I don't think bulletproof glass would fit there because of the budgetary concerns,” Knouse said. “But, it's something that we could look at during the design phase, when we come to the board and see what we want to include or not include.”

Hayden responded to Mauro's question by highlighting the fact that windows in its design are relatively high and gaining entry into the building through them would be difficult.

Bulko said she'd like to have a panic button in every classroom, with a direct line to either school security or the county 911 center.

Director Bob Smith expressed concerns about the proposed site.

“When you're talking about cutting in and filling, there's a lot that can go wrong there,” he said.

Director Bill Stein declined to ask questions, instead offering a statement.

“I'm more concerned with the process involved,” Stein said. “I'm more concerned about working with us and the stakeholders, the taxpayers of this district.”

Bulko said a community group will be formed for discussions about the building.

“I've been talking about the community group even before I was president,” Bulko said. “I think it's really important. I think the people of the community have a say-so in it. I also think it's going to unite the district. That's the goal.

“I'm very pleased with what I heard here tonight. Yes, one plan was more expensive, but it's a bigger school. One is familiar, one is not. We'll decide and vote Wednesday.”

Monongahela Councilman Ken Kulak, an architect, said he liked what he heard.

“They have to condense a lot of information in a short amount of time,” Kulak said of Hayes Large. “They don't have the familiarity that HHSDR does. I'm very satisfied with what I saw; it's a very thought-out process. It looks like they're paying attention to what the requirements are, and it looks like it's a moderate approach.

“As an architect, we never want to shove our thoughts down anyone's throat. The engagement process and involving the community, there's a lot of factors here. You have to engage the stakeholders in the process. It's a wonderful approach.”

The board will meet 7 p.m. Wednesday in regular session.

Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-684-2667.

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