Firm unveils district-wide plan that includes modern high school with arena-style gyms on current site
If Port Washington High School is to be renovated, half the building would be demolished to accommodate a new arena-style athletic facility, cafeteria and library built along a hillside so they rise from below grade to a spacious main-floor lobby, according to a Bray Architects proposal presented to the Port Washington-Saukville School Board Monday.
Three stories of new classrooms built into the hill on the west side of the school, as well as new music facilities and offices, would also be included in a project that is estimated to take three years to complete.
In addition, the feasibility study conducted over the last eight months calls for additions to the district’s four other schools.
Most notably, a new gym large enough to accommodate two full-size basketball courts, locker rooms and a community room would be built at Lincoln Elementary School for use by students at the school as well as Port High and Thomas Jefferson Middle School teams and district residents.
At Saukville Elementary School, a new gym large enough for a regulation-size basketball court, locker rooms and a community room would also be constructed.
The results of the Bray study — subject to a survey of school district voters to be conducted by the Slinger-based polling firm School Perceptions in September — are intended to be the blueprint for what could be the most ambitious and expensive referendum project in the history of the district.
Notably absent, however, from Monday’s presentation were project costs, although the board approved the study and forwarded it to School Perceptions so work can begin on the survey.
Supt. Michael Weber said Bray is refining rough cost estimates. Board members will likely get their first look at the costs and tax impacts in September when they review a draft of the survey, the results of which will play a key role in determining the substance of a referendum to go to voters in February or April, he said.
“The board did not give the architects a cost range to work with,” Weber said. “The board gave them a list of items they wanted included and said, ‘We want to do this right. We don’t want to cut corners and we want to be fiscally responsible.’”
Board President Carey Gremminger said school officials know the costs will be substantial but are convinced improvements are needed.
“We don’t know what the costs are yet, but we’re not naive enough to think it won’t be millions,” she said. “We’re talking about five enormous buildings that have significant needs. And at the high school, we’re not talking about a refurbishing but an absolute demolition and new construction of half the school.
“But our job is to address the needs of the district and prepare for the future, and that is what we’re doing.”
Space crunch, outdated school spur study
The feasibility study was prompted by a lack of classroom space at the elementary schools, which are at or near capacity. The plan to build new gyms at Lincoln and Saukville elementary schools would accomplish two goals — free existing space for use as classrooms and provide needed facilities such as gyms and community rooms for use by the public. School officials have pointed out that the demand by the community for school gym space is so great the district cannot meet it.
“There’s never enough gym space,” board member Marchell Longstaff said. “It will definitely be used.”
At Dunwiddie Elementary School, the current gym is sufficient, but an addition would be built onto the front of the school to provide space for a community room and classrooms, Clinton Selle, a Bray architect, told the board.
A lack of classroom space is not the problem at the high school, but an aging facility comprised of a series of additions whose core building dates to 1931 is. Inadequate gym and lab space, outdated infrastructure and an inefficient layout are also issues, school officials have said.
“Last spring and summer, we heard community members talking and asking questions about the high school. We knew we needed to do something there,” Weber said. “At about the same time, it became very obvious we were out of space at the elementary level and we needed to do something.”
Two options for high school
The facilities study and its recommendations are sweeping, addressing needs that range from outdated air-handling systems and roofs to the size of buildings throughout the district. The most complex project, the one that presents difficult questions for voters and school officials, is the one involving the high school.
“The biggest question going into the study was is it even feasible to remain on site? Can we have our ideal high school on its current site?” Weber said. “Bray provided that answer. It can be done, and that was a huge step.”
But that doesn’t mean the future of Port Washington High School has been decided. The survey that will precede the referendum will ask voters for their opinions on two options — renovate and rebuild on the current site or construct a new high school on a new site.
The problem with the latter option is that school officials have been unable to find a suitable site for a new school. A parcel off Highway LL in the Town of Port Washington known as the Simplicity testing grounds and now owned by Briggs & Stratton has been considered, but in addition to being undersized, it is not easily annexed into the city, does not have water or sewer service and is not safely accessible by foot. Former VK Development land on the far south side of the city is already annexed but otherwise suffers from similar problems. The district owns land on the west side of the city, but at 43 acres, the parcel is too small for a high school, Weber said.
In addition, there is the question of what to do with the current high school if it were vacated.
“We can have the best laid plans, but the truth is it would take someone with money to do something with the building,” Selle said. “The short answer is, you’d probably tear everything down except for maybe the auditorium.”
Design ‘embraces the topography’
Working with the existing site may appear complex, Selle said, but the finished product would be a modern school with roughly the same amount of educational space as a new facility, and it would save the district the cost of acquiring additional land.
“It would be much simpler to just build a new facility at a new site, but there’s a lot of value in the current site,” he said. “You would have a very unique and valuable school moving forward.”
Initially, architects toyed with the obvious option of expanding the school to the north on land that is used by phy-ed classes and as a practice football field. But that would only exacerbate the inefficient sprawl of the school, Selle said.
“Suddenly, you’re a long way from the rest of your facility,” he said.
So instead, architects decided to take advantage of the hill the school sits on and “embrace the topography,” Selle said.
The Washington Heights building, commonly referred to as third building at the north end of the school, the large tech-ed wing west of it and the auditorium at the southeast end of the school would be renovated but otherwise left untouched. The rest of the school — the areas known as first and second buildings — would be demolished.
In their place, a large lobby, choral and band rooms and administrative offices would be built. The gym complex, cafeteria and library would ring the southwest corner of the school and use the contour of the hill, rising from a lower grade so that the two-story-tall facilities would be open on top at the level of the main-floor lobby.
An outdoor plaza that wraps around the cafeteria and windows would provide views of the football field.
Gyms would accommodate multiple courts
The athletic complex would feature a gym with two regulation-size basketball courts, wraparound seating and a mezzanine walking track around the top. It would be separated from an auxiliary gym by wrestling, aerobics and fitness and weight rooms, as well as a health center.
New classrooms to be constructed on the west side of the tech-ed wing would be built along the hillside so that, while three stories, their height would match the existing two-story building.
While building a new school with amenities like a fieldhouse is attractive, so too is a design for the current high school that would leave people saying, “Wow, this is something different than everyone else has,” Athletic Director Thad Gabrielse said.
One of the biggest challenges to working with the existing high school is managing a three-year construction project while continuing to educate students, Selle said.
“So the question you ask is, how in the world do we do this?” he said. “Admittedly, there will be some significant challenges. Maybe some trailers are brought in and used temporarily.”
The project would be done in phases, with new classrooms constructed first. During the major portion of the project, temporary facilities like trailers may be used for office and cafeteria space, administrators said.
School officials have remained noncommittal on the high school options, making it clear they will rely heavily on the results of the survey.
“What the architects have shown us regarding the high school (on the current site) is excellent and would serve our community well, but the survey will tell us if that’s what the community wants,” Weber said. “In other words, we’ll do whatever the community wants.”
Additions recommended at other schools
At Lincoln Elementary School, the parking and student drop-off area on the south side of the building would be enlarged and a new two-court gym, locker rooms and community room constructed on the west side of the school. The current gym would be used for a library, computer lab and reading classroom.
At Saukville Elementary School, the parking lot on the north side of the building would be enlarged and the gym and community room addition built on the west side of the school.
Inside the existing building, which is the only open-concept school in the district, some walls would be built to better delineate space and improve security.
At Dunwiddie Elementary School, the visitor parking area on the north side of the school would be enlarged and a new staff parking lot and bus drop off area would be built just to the west.
The addition to the front of the building would provide a secure entrance to the building, as well as space for classrooms and offices.
At Thomas Jefferson Middle School, the most significant need is additional gym space, but expanding the current gym is impractical because of its location in the center of the building, Selle said. The new gym at Lincoln Elementary School, which is just across Holden Street from the middle school, is intended to address that need.
The only structural work planned for the middle school is an addition to the west side of the building to provide an improved public entrance to the aquatic center. It would include changing rooms.
Although physically connected to the schools, the additions would be designed as separate structures that would allow public access to them while keeping the rest of the schools secure.
Image information: THE CENTRAL PORTION of Port Washington High School would be razed to make room for a new athletic facility, library, cafeteria and classrooms, according to a plan unveiled by architects Monday. Photo by Bill Schanen IV