DANVILLE — School officials are pleased with the $13.8 million North Ridge Middle School renovation, which is on budget and schedule.
Though it rained when a handful of school board and community members toured the building earlier this week, officials said the school will be ready when students arrive next week thanks, in part, to the mild winter and dry summer.
"This project has been a contractor's dream when it comes to the weather," said Buildings and Ground Director Ron Henton, who also credited its success to the cooperation, dedication and hard work of architects, contractors and school staff.
"There were very few days where they weren't here," Henton said of work crews, who kicked off construction the last week of December. "We really pushed them hard to be ready for the start of the school year. We are ready, and they've done a fantastic job."
The project is the second of three major building overhauls that the district is tackling in a three-year period. Earlier this year, work crews wrapped up a $12.3 million renovation at South View Middle School, which kicked off in 2011. Schmidt Associates of Indianapolis currently is preparing architectural drawings and bid specifications for the final renovation at East Park Elementary School. That project, estimated to cost between $11.7 million to $12.3 million, is scheduled to get under way over the Christmas break and wrap up by the start of the 2013-14 school year.
The three schools, which opened as junior high schools in 1961, share the same design flaws, such as flat roofs, and had long been the district's most problematic buildings.
North Ridge is expected to be the most complex project partly because of its size. The building has 109,000 square feet and two levels on the east end. It also sits on a hilly terrain that's squeezed into a tight area bordered by the American Legion and a wooded area, which made construction and staging cranes and other heavy equipment more difficult.
Officials were pleased when construction, electrical, mechanical and plumbing bids came in about $2 million under architects estimates. This week, Henton said the district likely will be able to turn in about $200,000 of the $575,000 in contingency funds.
"We'll be able to use that on East Park," he said.
Over the last eight months, contractors added a sloped steel roof; installed a new HVAC system, energy-efficient "storefront" windows and shades, new exterior doors; painted the entire building; cut windows into the gymnasium and recladded the gym; and installed more than 800 lockers.
"There's one for every student," Principal Jason Bletzinger said, adding that students previously had to share.
Contractors also replaced the entire plumbing system and updated the electrical system; installed touchless commodes, urinals, faucets and hand driers in restrooms; installed a security system; built a canopy over the front door and moved the door to line up with the main office door.
"Now the secretary can look out from her desk, and see who exactly is at the front door," Henton said.
Contractors also built a two-story atrium between the gym and an 11,000-plus-square-foot cafetorium, which feature a modern kitchen and a stage. Henton said the cafetorium and an elevator in the atrium, which will replace a chair lift, won't be completed until December.
"We hope to make the conversion from the old kitchen to the cafetorium over Christmas break," he said, adding workers will convert the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade commons areas — where students currently eat — into a total of six classrooms.
Once it's open, the cafetorium will seat comfortably 300 students for meals, and 485 to 500 people for other events. When the cafetorium isn't being used to serve meals, Bletzinger said it will be used for music and theater productions, staff meetings, professional development and other activities.
"It certainly will allow for a lot of additional opportunities for our staff, students and the community," he said.
In addition, crews englarged a parking lot on the east side to create 35 more spaces, and resurfaced the roads including one that runs along the south side of the school. That road is owned by the American Legion next door, but it's used on a daily basis by buses to load and unload students and other vehicles. They're also finishing new sidewalks and landscaping the area.
As the tour group marveled at the improvements, Bletzinger said he believes the transformation is bound to have a positive effect on students and staff. "It's like walking into a brand new building," he said, adding students got a preview at registration. "You could see their excitement, especially when they saw their new lockers. They're excited about having their own."