In response to the recent development of the November 2014 board meeting that makes it seem likely the plan by the school district is to close the middle school, read more about this here, a local husband and wife submit the following letter as a possible solution.
December 10, 2014
Renew, Reuse and Renovate or Some Ideas on the Old Corbett Middle School
This message comes to you from April and Eric Eaton. We both grew up here in Corbett and now have two kids in the local schools and are active volunteers in the community. We own a general contracting business and Eric is familiar with work on old and new buildings, both commercial and residential. We do not belong to or represent any organization; these are the thoughts of a husband and wife team. We would like to share with you some of our experience in construction with regards to renovation and some of our opinions on why the last three bonds have not passed and what we can do about this.
Before we condemn our own school and displace our kids, we hope this message makes it to all our teachers, board directors, neighbors and parents of all students. We think the community deserves a chance to weigh in on what they would like before the board proceeds with another bond. We would love to see the Corbett Middle School renovated and have included information to support that below. However, there are others that would like to see a new building and would like to give input on square footage concerns. Either way, the community needs the opportunity to be involved and come to some general consensus before we move ahead. Doesn’t the failure of three consecutive bonds indicate a need for further community input?
Has the Corbett Middle School Been Condemned?
No, the Corbett Middle School has NOT been condemned by a building official. Nothing has changed in this building in the last four years to necessitate closing it. Closing the school before we have a good replacement plan is unwise, particularly with the intention of putting our kids in a gym that is also deemed “unsafe.” We would like to re-iterate that we agree that something has to be done about the Corbett Middle School and we are definitely in favor of a safe, comfortable learning space. However, we feel that many of the people who voted no are not saying no to the dollar amount, but are saying no to demolition of the school. Many of the no voters are also afraid of an unreasonably large expansion of classroom space, possibly leading to an increase in student population. We think that closing the school and threatening to put the kids in the gym is a way to pressure the community into voting for a new bond in the spring. Who knows how long the students will be confined to the gym. If placing the students in the gymnasium is what the board decides, the best way to shorten their stay is to renovate rather than replace the Corbett Middle School. It’s faster, less disruptive and the right thing to do.
Some people have mentioned that they haven’t seen plans for a renovation, just building a new structure. Eric spent time this past spring in a meeting with Eric Stevens, Board Chair Charlie O’Neil and Superintendent Randy Trani to develop a third option that would garner complete board support. This plan involved remodeling the existing building and modifying the existing floor plan to fit our needs. No action was taken by the administration or the board after this meeting.
April was on the initial facilities committee (approximately 60 people) that formed before the first bond. These meetings were attended by Rommel Architectural LLP, a company well versed in new commercial architecture. From the beginning, it should have been crucial to have 2 different professional points of view on what to do with the Corbett Middle School. One experienced with new construction and one experienced with renovation of older buildings. Both accomplish the same goal of a safer building. It would have generated a lot more information for the committee to make a solid recommendation to the board. We think over half of the original people gave up attending these meetings because they did not feel heard.
The estimate to renovate the Corbett Middle School made it appear an unwise choice. Let’s review some of the issues with Rommel’s quote to renovate:
- There was a large 30% contingency built into the remodel quote, well beyond the normal 10%.
- Rommel Architecture claimed that most of the interior walls of the Corbett Middle School could not be moved, this simply is not true.
- Rommel’s plans (dated 3/19/13) include reinforcing (thickening) every single wall in the Corbett Middle School including non-weight bearing ones, this is unnecessary and grossly inflates the amount of space eaten up by seismic improvements.
These misconceptions are some of the main reasons the facilities committee decided that building new was the best option.
What About Those Major Problems?
Renovating seems like a win-win situation and an easy way to satisfy a large number of people. The building could continue to be useful for many years and it would be structurally sound. Let’s look at some of the most important issues to the daily life of students and teachers in the Corbett Middle School:
- Plumbing is a major issue. Is it difficult to replace and expensive? No, the plumbing is not difficult to replace. It is easily accessed from the basement and cheaper when coordinated with other trade work. It is also an opportune time to design a new plumbing system with additional restrooms.
- The asbestos is a high priority concern, what do we do about it? Most of the asbestos in the building is around the plumbing and mechanical systems, which need to be removed and replaced anyway. There are professional companies that specialize in asbestos abatement and they use state of the art procedures to make sure that the air quality after abatement is fresh and healthy.
- What about the electrical and technological needs of the students? Re-wiring is a basic task, especially when the walls are opened up for other work. Any new floor plan will incorporate new efficient lighting with modern fixtures, emergency lighting, properly grounded outlets and provisions for technology with future expansion.
- What do we do about the basement? We agree that the basement is a terrible place for students, but a wonderful place to locate all of the mechanical, plumbing and electrical needs a modern school requires. We could do away with antiquated radiators and provide students with healthy, filtered, conditioned heat incorporating independent zones to each classroom. Teachers could even control the temperature of each classroom with their smart phone.
- What about seismic upgrades? The basement foundation walls and main floor walls can be reinforced with modern construction practices such as spray applied high strength concrete, shear walls or steel moment frames. Think about how many older multi-story buildings in Portland have been saved and improved with these systems, for example, the Ecotrust building in NW Portland. Renovation was chosen in many cases because it was faster, cheaper and more environmentally sound. Corbett Middle School’s seismic improvements are a lot easier to accomplish than the multi-story one described above. Corbett Middle School is one story tall and extremely wide in proportion to its height, both of these features simplify the construction and reduce the cost.
- What about fire and life safety? Fire suppression is very important to all of us. Most of the basement is used for storage with no fire protection. Fire is far more likely to destroy the building and hurt the kids than a large earthquake. The school was nearly lost once before in a basement fire. A fire sprinkler system is simple to install and affordable due to the size of the school and its proximity to the massive water main along the Historic Highway. Secondary exits throughout the school should also be installed.
No one has ever proposed a new floor plan for the Corbett Middle School. We are not sure why. Decades of poorly planned remodels have turned a once charming building into a twisted mess. Many walls in the building can be relocated or removed giving us lots of space and creating a more user friendly and safer environment. Teachers can coordinate with an architect to organize space in the Corbett Middle School to fit their needs. Let’s look at how the current Corbett Middle School is organized:
- Only 29% of the total square footage of the main floor is used for traditional classroom space.
- Many converted office spaces are used for administration and special needs students. Some of these rooms are too big and others are too small.
- Confusing hallways, restrooms and undersized common area make up the balance.
What does this mean? It means that the school’s inefficient layout diminishes the classroom space to roughly 4,700 square feet of the 15,200 on the main level. Surely we can develop a new floor plan to meet our needs with the space we have.
But We Want a Beautiful, New School We Can Be Proud Of!
YES, RENOVATING CAN GIVE US A BRIGHT, SHINY SCHOOL! For those who think a renovation is simply changing out the carpet and fixing the plumbing, we want to be clear that a renovation means new everything: new finishes and fixtures, new plumbing and electrical, new windows, more natural light, larger spaces and more efficiently placed hallways.
How Much Is This Going To Cost?
- If we assume that the school has about 15,200 square feet on the main floor and if we multiply that by $300 per square foot (average cost) for a remodel we get $4,560,000.
- If we include the basement in our calculation, $75 per sf, we end up with a total construction budget of $5,700,000 plus 10% for contingency and it ends up being $6,270,000.
This is a very well finished building, much nicer than any structure currently on campus. Yes, renovating can be the same price, on a per square foot basis, than a new building, but we are left with a beautiful, historic building we can be proud of. Why build a cookie cutter, cheap, antiseptic school that is constructed like all of the others? Corbett is a unique school district and our buildings should reflect that. Please help us make our school last another 100 years, not the 50 year expected life of a new school!
With the help of an architect, Jeremy Miller AIA, we would like to propose ideas for a revised floor plan so the community can have a better idea of what could be done with the space. This would be of no charge to the school. Along with the wants of faculty and students, we would appreciate your input. Hopefully this could be presented at the January board meeting but this may be too late. If the board chair demands that the board vote on closing the Corbett Middle School at the December 17th board meeting, there will be nothing more we can do.
What can we do? Call and/or e-mail your board members, they were elected to represent YOU! Your board members are:
- Bob Buttke 503-695-5204 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mark Hyzer 503-695-3454 email@example.com
- Todd Mickalson 503-695-3463 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Victoria Purvine 503-695-2182 email@example.com
- David Gorman 503-695-3494 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Annette Calcagno 503-695-2503 email@example.com
- Charlie O’Neil 503-695-5554 firstname.lastname@example.org
Ask them to keep the Corbett Middle School open! Ask them to seek further community input before going up for another bond. If you would like to see the school renovated, please ask for an opportunity to vote on a renovation! The board chair is in a hurry to get this issue voted on by the school board so that he can get another bond on the ballot this coming spring. So please, call our school board members with your opinions! Please come to the December 17th school board meeting and speak!
To Recap, Renovating Will:
- Respect the community by keeping a historic part of Corbett that belongs to everyone.
- Install a reasonable limit on the amount of expanded classroom space available.
- Create the function of a new building while retaining the architecture and charm of the old.
We want to see the passage of a bond we can all support. We think that a campaign to Reuse, Renew and Renovate will be an idea that can help unite the Corbett community. Let’s at least explore all the possibilities before trying to pass another bond.
If you have questions please call April or Eric at 503-695-2621. Thank you for your time!
April and Eric Eaton
April N. Eaton wrote on 12 / 11 / 2014: “After talking some more with our Superintendent Randy Trani I would like to clarify that in the event of a remodel or new construction, the kids would not be placed in the gym that is in need of seismic updating. The kids could be placed in the back gym, the wrestling room or we could rent portables or space from Reynolds. Thanks!”