By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG
For the second year in a row, the construction of a new academic building at Lake Forest Middle School is part of the Cleveland Daily Banner’s list of Top 10 Newsmakers for the year. In 2016, …
For the second year in a row, the construction of a new academic building at Lake Forest Middle School is part of the Cleveland Daily Banner’s list of Top 10 Newsmakers for the year.
In 2016, it was ranked No. 7 after the community celebrated the official groundbreaking. It is now tied for No. 5 on the list for 2017, thanks to a year’s worth of progress on the building.
A new two-story, 138,000-square-foot building is now being build on Lake Forest’s existing campus. This building will replace multiple pod-style classroom buildings, putting all the students under one roof for their classes.
"Every day and every month that goes by, excitement builds," Lake Forest Principal Ritchie Stevenson said recently. "As the new building is built, excitement is, too."
With construction having begun in late 2016, this year began with good news from the build site. Dr. Linda Cash, director of Bradley County Schools, shared one such update with the Bradley County Commission in February.
"There is lots of movement out there," Cash said. "They are leveling the ground. It is moving and they are on schedule. … There's not a time you go out there and there is not dirt being moved."
The school’s campus currently resembles a college campus, with multiple separate classroom buildings. The school's cafeteria, gym, auditorium, library and administrative offices are also in separate buildings.
Stevenson pointed earlier this year that this campus "not conducive" for educating middle schoolers. Though awnings cover the sidewalks, students are exposed to all types of weather. Students frequently moving from building to building also presents safety concerns.
The new building is being constructed near the existing pod-style classroom building, on what used to be a parking lot. Once the new building is complete, most of the classroom pods will be demolished. However, the school’s existing auditorium, cafeteria and gymnasium buildings, which Stevenson said have had “major” renovations in recent years, will remain.
The auditorium and gymnasium are being attached to the new building. At the same time, a new backstage area and restrooms are being added to the auditorium. The cafeteria will remain a short walk away, connected by a covered sidewalk.
Lake Forest’s new building will be U-shaped, which will allow for a big center courtyard which can be fenced in and used for a variety of school events.
The classrooms will be outfitted with features like new furniture and LED smartboards. Each will also include three 4-by-8-foot windows. Another big feature, Stevenson noted, will be a secure lobby area which will allow staff to keep better tabs on who enters and exits the school.
The new building also includes: 50 instructional rooms, three computer labs, two special education rooms, one broadcast room, one STEM flex room, one STEM fabrication lab, one art classroom, band room and ensemble room, one drama/show choir room, two music rooms, four teacher team work rooms, one Student Government Association room and a new library, which will double as a professional development center.
"It will be a much better facility with a much better design," Stevenson said earlier this year. "It's amazing to watch how it is taking shape every day.”
Following a period of site preparations, contractor Tri-Con, Inc., was given its “notice to proceed” on Feb. 6. Since then, workers have been plugging away on the project.
Cason Conn, project manager with Tri-Con, Inc., said it was exciting for everyone involved to see the building begin to take shape, despite trouble at the start.
Though construction began in February, there had been some delays. This was due in part to springtime rains; crews needing everything to be dry before starting on critical work tasks. With the age of the site, the site surveys also did not adequately show former gas line or sewer line placements.
Conn said he was optimistic that the summer months, when students were out on break, would give workers the time they needed to stay on schedule.
By August, the new two-story building began to tower over the existing classroom pods. Though construction on campus necessitated changes to traffic flow and athletic schedules at the school, Stevenson said students and families were happy to see the that had been made over the summer.
Earlier this month, Stevenson welcomed the Bradley County Board of Education for a tour of the new facility.
Conn and Douglas Caywood, managing principal for Lewis Group Architects, were also on hand to speak about the design and answer board members' questions.
"We're happy with the progress so far," Conn said. "We're pushing it hard.”
Conn said workers were hoping to have the building totally “under roof” by January, so interior work could take place throughout the winter. Once springtime arrives, work will continue outdoors.
The project manager noted the summer months are going to be extremely busy. Workers will be demolishing some of the old buildings and putting in a brand new driveway and parking lot, all while finishing up the new building.
"Next summer's going to be a major challenge," Conn said. "By the time the kids get out and we demo the old school, put in the parking and all that, this thing will be a push 'til the very end."
In preparation of the demolitions, the school’s administrative offices will be moving into the new building in May. Construction workers and school staff will be working to make sure everything is ready for
Students at LFMS will begin 2018-19 school year in what will essentially be a new school. Stevenson noted this has been a dream for a long time, and the completed building will be like a dream come true. He predicts students and teachers alike will experience a positive sort of “culture shock” during the first days.
"We're extremely excited to have such a nice space to work with our kids in," said Stevenson.
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