New Henderson and Liberty principals, deputy superintendent announced
Lee Pollard of HY Architects delivered an update of Benicia Middle School’s campus modernization project at Thursday’s school board meeting.
The redesign of Benicia Middle’s campus, funded by Measure S and set to begin in the fall, has been a topic of discussion at school board meetings in recent months. One of the suggestions at the Feb. 2 meeting was to gather more input from staff. Pollard said that shortly afterward, the same presentation was given to BMS staff on Feb. 10, and design committee meetings were held on March 10 and 24, in which additional input was given.
Primary projects of the redesign include new modular classrooms, a modernized campus, a new drama room and kitchen, and removing the lower portables.
Staff has presented concerns about the number of classrooms in the upper campus if the school removed classrooms in the lower campus and congested student traffic in getting out of the library building. They also expressed a desire for 21st century learning classrooms and improving the front of the school and outdoor learning areas.
“The group had a lot of passion about making this place as good as we can make it,” Pollard said.
After talking with Principal Damian Scott and walking through all classes on campus, the committee was able to identify areas of concern. These consisted of two educational classrooms that were considered undersized, two rooms tucked away in a corner and classrooms buried in the middle of the library building that had no natural light to shine on them. Likewise, they identified seven portables that were being used almost every period and five that were used for either one period, storage or rainy day physical education.
As with last time, Pollard felt the needs of the school could be met through providing two modular classrooms in the upper campus and a new drama classroom.
“That would provide a need for the entire campus,” he said.
Teachers had expressed concern about changes in enrollment over time. Pollard said that enrollment is actually projected to decline over the next five years before the current larger classes at the lower elementary level move in.
“We imagine you’re going to be pretty good for at least eight to 10 years,” he said. “If there comes a time when you need another classroom, there is space up there for us to add a classroom.”
Pollard proposed other ideas, including putting skylights by darker classrooms to bring in natural light, putting creatively designed fences and flexible walls in front of the school, transforming four quad areas into outdoor learning spaces and adding more open space to the library with different levels of furniture and larger study areas.
“The library could be jazzed up a great deal,” he said.
Trustee Peter Morgan said he had seen flexible walls as sound insulation and asked if the proposed walls would have any improvements.
“You end up having both rooms not usable because there’s too much noise,” Morgan said.
Pollard said the newer designs were an improvement.
“The new ones that they have a very high Sound Transmission Coefficient ratio, and when they’re closed they actually have a little seal on the floor, ceiling and wall, and they are very effective,” he said.
Trustee Stacy Holguin asked about lighting in the interior hallways. Pollard said that was a major priority, and possibilities included bringing in solar skylights or painting the hallways a brighter color.
Superintendent Charles Young asked what the next steps were. Pollard said they included developing designs for what would go into the spaces and reviewing them with the school’s site committee before bringing them back to the school board for approval before the end of the school year.
“We don’t have an unlimited budget on this, so we need to be very careful about, as we’re going through this, also producing a cost estimate to make sure that we’ve defined exactly how much money we’re spending on this school,” he said.
Nonetheless, Pollard said it would be important to get the ball rolling soon so that staff and students can see changes by the summer of 2018.
In other matters, Young also introduced three new leaders in the district for the 2017-2018 school year: Zachary Pless, the incoming principal of Liberty High School; Melanie Buck, the incoming principal of Joe Henderson Elementary School; and Dr. Khushwinder Gill, the incoming deputy superintendent. Pless, who will be taking the reins from JoAnn Severson after she retires at the end of the year, received a bachleors degree in history from Chico State and a masters degree from UC Berkeley. He also has been a vice principal at Martinez Junior High School for three years. Buck, who will be taking over from Carin Garton who will leave to take a new position in her home state, also got a masters degree from UC Berkeley and has served as principal of Lincoln Elementary in Vallejo since 2012. Gill, who will be succeeding Dr. Michael Gardner after he retires, received her masters and doctorate degrees from University of the Pacific, served in principal and assistant principal positions in the Tracy Unified School District, had adjunct faculty positions at Stanislaus State and Teachers College of San Joaquin, and has been the assistant superintendent for the Lammersville Unified School District. All three will begin their positions on July 1.
Additionally, Benicia Middle School’s Odyssey of the Mind team— who will be going to Michigan for the World Finals in May— presented their winning skit to the board, complete with props made out of recycled materials.
The board will next meet on May 4.