Needing to relieve growing pains
More classrooms, gym space and performing arts center part of $80 million proposal to renovate and expand Cheney High School
A crowd of 50-plus school district patrons gathered last Wednesday night at the Cheney High School library for a preliminary look at a proposed expansion and renovation of the grade 9-12 facility just outside those library walls – a project estimated to cost around $80 million.
School district officials along with architects at NAC Architecture have been working on plans to expand and modernize the current high school, something last done in 1994, with a capacity of 900. Since then the Cheney School District has expanded, an expansion that led to the just finished construction of two new middle schools and the opening this fall of a new elementary school.
“Now, our enrollment typically hovers around 1,150,” high school principal Troy Heuett told the audience.
Associate superintendent Sean Dotson said the district is forecasting high school enrollment to hit 1,350 over the next few years, and potentially 1,500 within about 10 years.
“It’s pretty slow the next 3-4 years, and then this bubble that’s in the elementary schools starts moving through,” Superintendent Dr. Debra Clemens said.
Seven portables have been installed in the high school’s main parking lot, reducing the amount of parking space for students, staff and visitors. An eighth is scheduled for installation over spring break. Before the portables, some teachers used carts to haul their instructional materials to various classrooms, often moving 3-4 times a day.
Heuett said a remodel would help student traffic flow during peak class hours. Right now there is only one main hallway running the length of the building, causing bottlenecks not only at the entrance but also at another intersection further down officials dubbed “Red Square.” The intersection gets its name from the red lines painted on the stones, which were to create areas for walking and areas for standing, helping traffic flow.
One staff member told the audience that it’s so difficult to traverse the hallway between classes that staff in the science wing often just get into their cars and drive to the front visitor parking lot in order to visit the administration office.
A committee of staff and school board members discussed these needs and others, Heuett said. The committee visited four other schools that had recently undergone renovations – not new construction – in order to see what was done and talk to staff there about problems encountered, especially after the work was finished.
The group took all the information and gave it to NAC, who produced two proposals, the second of which was presented last Wednesday. Architect Keith Comes said their job was to look at the information and determine if renovation at the existing site was the answer.
“So far the feedback we’ve got from Troy and his staff is definitely yes,” Comes said.
Potential renovation work would transform the high school in a manner very different from today’s configuration. Traffic flow would be eased through removal of a wall on the east end of Hatch gym, connecting two currently separate hallways together.
More classroom space would be created through expansion to the west of the current science wing, hooking it up with the main building near the existing home locker rooms by the gym. The district’s alternative high school, Three Springs, would be moved from its current location next to the district’s Fisher Building, which is being phased out and put up for sale, to a site just off the football field.
Two new science labs would replace the Little Theatre and classrooms would replace the current administration area. Administration would move to an expanded location just off the front entry, which would also be expanded to create a larger commons area for students to gather and most importantly eat.
The current cafeteria holds about 200 students. With just one lunch period, officials said there are about 400-500 students buying hot lunches, with others bringing their own – all of who eat wherever they can find space.
The biggest addition, among a number of others in the expansion, would be the construction of a new, 700-seat performing arts center, along with another gym where the current main gym entrance is now. Heuett said currently band and choir concerts, along with honors ceremonies, are held in the main gym, restricting its use for sports because of set up time, and lending a less than desirable performance environment.
“If you’ve ever been to a gym that has good acoustics, I’d like to see that gym,” he said.
The center would be something new not only for the community, as would the added gym space. Comes said that along with all of the new walls would also come new systems.
Overall the renovation add 69,240 square feet to the current facility, increasing it to 237,400 square feet overall, with a capacity of 1,500 students. Parking would also be increased, with the current bus loop moved to nearby Betz Elementary School and a new entrance created on Eighth Street.
While district officials had a good handle on the high school’s needs and possible solutions, less clear was the logistics – how long to build and how to pay for it. Comes said one way was construction in phases, with additions built first and upgrades latter.
As for financing the estimated $80 million cost, officials weren’t sure. Voters passed a $70 million bond in 2010 to finance the two 110,000 square foot-plus middle schools, and at the time had a bond capacity of about $106 million.
That has likely increased as the district’s assessed value has gone up, and district finance director Brian Aiken said they had around $53 million in capacity right now. The district is also paying off principal and interest on the 2010 bond, he added.
But the idea of floating another 20-year bond to renovate the high school left at least one audience member asking a question.
“If we run a 20-year bond and run out of space in 10 years, what do we do then?” Duane Issacs said.
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.