School progress

With a new school year set to begin soon, Newton-Conover City Schools leaders are already looking ahead to the 2012-2013 school year.

That's when the school system's new $20.8 million middle school will officially open to students. While the school won't officially open until August 2012, system officials said this week it should be complete well before then.

"We are very excited regarding the progress," said Newton-Conover City School Superintendent Dr. Barry Redmond. "The progress has been fast, and it looks like it will be substantially done by February. The initial timeline was to be done by April, but we look to be ahead of schedule at this point."

As a member of the school system's facilities committee, N-CCS board member Jim Stockner has been a frequent visitor to the school site off County Home Road in Conover.

"They are right on track," he said. "I am pleased that it looks like they will have it under roof and closed before any kind of severe weather this fall and especially any kind of snow. It looks like they should be able to work inside and should be able to move along very quickly."

With construction expected to be completed before April, school leaders will have plenty of time to move into the building before the 2012-13 school year begins.

"We will have most of the summer to get moved in, and there won't be that much to move because there will be all new furniture and equipment," Redmond said, adding the bulk of materials to be moved will be the personal effects of the middle school's teachers and administrators. "The teachers will have time to move in and set up, and the students will occupy it in August 2012."

This week, Redmond and Stockner, along with school board member Kim Cline, assistant N-CCS Superintendent David Stegall, Personnel Director Sylvia White and architect Mark Bostian toured the school-in-construction. During the visit, N-CCS leaders surveyed progress to a facility that will eventually be certified for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) at the highest level. That designation is applied to the most energy efficient buildings being constructed today.

"It will be an extremely efficient building — a real-life lab as far as teaching energy savings and ecological lessons, in terms of consumer behavior, conservation measures, water run-off and re-using heating like cafeteria waste," Redmond said, adding the school will provide real-life examples of conservation in practice.

The school will offer more than environmental lessons, however. The 128,000-square-foot, three-story building will offer everything from classrooms and science labs to athletic facilities, media center, a 450-seat auditorium and more.

With the new school, some of those facilities can be more readily used by the community outside the school,too.

"The auditorium, the gym and the media center are built so that you can secure those areas away from the rest of the building. That way we can have groups in there during the evening and not jeopardize the care and safety of the rest of the building," Redmond said. "It is also a spacious campus, in terms of the surrounding neighborhoods being able to use the fields and the playgrounds provided they go through the proper channels. I think it will add to the value of the neighborhoods."

Stockner said the middle school is patterned after recent middle schools built in the Hickory Public School system — Northview and Grandview. Using those plans allowed the school system to save some money on design, Redmond said.

"They made what they consider improvements to the Northview plan when they built Grandview," he said, " and we made some changes to the Grandview plan. I think it will be a nice finished product."

As the school takes shape, so, too, are athletic fields. During the tour, N-CCS leaders stepped inside the gymnasium, along with boys and girls lockerooms and coaches offices. From an outdoor deck outside a planned art room, school system leaders overlooked tennis courts, and soccer, baseball, softball fields. Also situated on the 30-acre school site is a football field atop a hill adjacent to the school.

"I wish all our schools could be as modern as this," Stockner said.

When the new middle school opens in August 2012, the current middle school will become home to Thornton Elementary in January 2013, Redmond said. Brief down-time for the current middle school will allow two phases of renovations to be completed at the school before students move in half a year later.

Phase 1 of middle school renovations began this summer and included lowering ceilings in the main school building, hallways, media center, band room, guidance offices and cafeteria.

"We have also built some substantial covered walks out front with heavy, durable awnings," Redmond said.

Phase 2 of middle school renovations will begin next summer and will address classroom sizes.