Officials say $45.5 million upgrade will create a facility that’s eye-catching, functional
The Port Washington-Saukville School District will unveil in two weeks designs for a $45.5 million like-new high school that officials say will be stunning in terms of both form and functionality.
Bray Architects and district work groups consisting of administrators and school board members have been refining plans to transform an aging and inefficient Port Washington High School, part of which dates to 1931, into a showcase of a school geared toward contemporary learning.
Among the most significant changes and refinements to conceptual designs are plans for a two-story library and media center on the west side of the building and a plan to retain a large part of the current gym, Supt. Michael Weber said.
The existing gym will be renovated around the existing floor to create an auxiliary, regulation-sized athletic facility that will eliminate the high school’s reliance on the Thomas Jefferson Middle School gym for some sporting events, Weber said.
It will be one of two high school gyms. The other will be an arena-like facility built on the south side of the school.
But one of the most striking and visible features of the high school will be its entrance and commons area, which will require the oldest, central part of the existing school to be demolished and rebuilt. The commons will be a gathering area large enough to accommodate events and an open cafeteria.
The commons is envisioned as a grand entryway to the school from which the new gym — described as arena-style because people will enter from above the floor and because of its wraparound seating — will be accessible to the south and the auxiliary gym and academic wings to the north.
Key to the design is the goal of grouping classrooms and other academic areas, which are currently spread throughout the sprawling building that has grown through a series of additions, in the same part of the school.
To accomplish this, a three-story academic wing will be built on the hill on the west side of the school adjacent to the existing technology education wing near what is referred to as the Washington Heights building on the far north end of the school. Both the tech-ed and Washington Heights buildings will be renovated.
“This is shaping up to be an awesome educational space for students,” Weber said. “It keeps our academic area connected to our tech-ed wing, which is a wonderfully large space for a high school our size, and the Washington Heights building.”
The new academic building will feature modern classrooms arranged to facilitate both group and individual learning and, unlike the current school, have a significant number of windows, Weber said.
“One of the themes of this entire project is the use of natural light,” he said.
New choir and band rooms will also be built. The existing music facilities, which are adjacent to the auditorium, will be used for costume storage and as dressing rooms.
Weber said the designs are still preliminary and will be tweaked as officials and architects continue to work on them.
Throughout the process, he said, a close eye has been kept on costs. The project is within budget, although the ultimate test won’t come until the work is bid early next year.
“It’s tight,” Weber said of the budget. “Construction costs have increased significantly over the last couple of months.”
Rising costs mean that the district is unlikely to be able to do additional work as officials hoped, Weber said. One of the additional projects that was envisioned was the installation of a synthetic-turf football field estimated to cost as much as $1 million.
Synthetic turf would be safer for athletes and, because it is far more durable than grass, allow the field to be used for more than just football games, administrators said.
Without money from the high school project to install the field, the district will have to look for other funding sources if the project is to be done. One option being explored by an organization formed to advocate for the approval of the referendum that paved the way for the high school project is private funding, possibly from a corporation interested in naming rights.
Bray Architects will present the high school designs to the Building and Ground Committee on Monday, Aug. 24.
Also included in the $49.4 million referendum plan approved by voters on April 7 is $3.8 million for a classroom addition at Dunwiddie Elementary School. That project is on schedule to be put out for bids in January. Construction would start later that year.
The high school project is scheduled to begin with the construction of the academic wing next year and be completed in 2019.
While that work is still months away, construction began last week at Saukville Elementary School. Funding for an addition at the school was eliminated from early referendum plans, so the district is using $80,000 from its fund balance to pay for the installation of internal walls and doors to improve school security and public access to facilities such as the gym.
The work is to be completed before school begins on Sept. 1.