ASHLAND – The plan was for students in pre-kindergarten to second grade to start the 2022-2023 school year in a brand new building.
But supply issues have pushed that back to the start of the second semester. However, the schedule for the new middle school has not been altered.
On May 11, officials with Ashland-Greenwood Public Schools and DLR Group met with the public to discuss the $59.9 million school bond project, which includes a lower elementary school for pre-kindergarten to second grades and a middle school with a competition gym and performance auditorium that will eventually be turned into the high school.
The project was also discussed at the Board of Education meeting on Monday night.
Originally, the PreK-2 facility was to be finished in July 2022. But school board members learned Monday night that the timeline has shifted and the school’s completion will be delayed about five months due to challenges with market conditions and supplies.
During an interview Tuesday morning, Matt Schendt, vice president of Hausmann Construction, said the original design utilized pre-cast concrete panels to construct the building. However, these items are in hot demand right now, as many e-commerce facilities, data centers and other large structures are under construction locally, creating a shortage.
As a result of the shortage of precast concrete panels, they will use masonry units, which are much easier to obtain. The switch will also save the school district about $400,000, according to Scott Gatewood, project manager with DLR Group.
While switching to masonry will keep the project moving forward, a scarcity of steel bar joists that are needed for the structure is also an issue. Schendt said they will not receive these materials until the beginning of 2022, which will ultimately cause the five-month delay.
Schendt said manufacturers of construction materials slowed down production when the pandemic hit in spring of 2020, anticipating a drop in construction projects. However, the construction industry kept on working.
“Reality is, the opposite happened,” he said.
As a result, demand increased for all sorts of construction materials, including precast concrete, steel and lumber.
“It put a pinch on availability of the supplies we rely heavily on,” said Schendt.
The shift to masonry will not affect the interior design of the PreK-2 building, but there will be some changes to the exterior, Schendt said. The precast concrete panels would have had a design on the exterior side. Now, the masonry will be covered with a brick veneer. Schendt said the brick will tie in with the other buildings on the campus.
Despite the continuing challenges, Superintendent Jason Libal said the administration and school board are confident they will be able to move in over Christmas break in time for the start of the second semester of 2022-2023.
“The ultimate goal, obviously, is to stay within our budget and hopefully get as close to the timeline as possible,” he said.
Work on the site for both buildings began this spring. Contractors have been moving dirt and creating piles to compact the ground where the two new schools will stand.
Gatewood said construction of the PreK-2 building will begin this summer.
“You won’t see anything pop out of the ground until the September time frame when things start going vertical,” said Gatewood.
Road work is also expected to begin in the fall. The school district, City of Ashland and developers of a proposed housing subdivision nearby are still working out details.
School district patron and parent John Keith was the only member of the public to attend the May 11 public meeting. He proposed 17th Avenue be made one-way during the school year to help ease traffic when the new schools are up and running. Gatewood said they will take Keith’s suggestion into consideration.
The timeline for the middle school/performing arts auditorium has not been changed by the issues with materials. The facility should be completed in time for the start of the 2023-2024 school year.
“The middle school building is still on track,” Libal said.
Gatewood said the fact that the construction of the middle school won’t start for some time is an advantage in this situation.
“We have enough bandwidth with our two year window, so there is no delay,” he said.
The design for the middle school was presented by DLR Group’s Beau Johnson during the May 11 meeting. Johnson said the design is flexible to allow for future growth.
The central spine of the two-story building will be a linear skylight that will provide a sense of place and awareness of the rhythms of the day, Johnson said. Natural daylight will also be provided in other spaces.
The design includes an academic wing, career/technology education wing, commons area, competition gymnasium and a performance auditorium connected to the music rooms.
“At the heart of this building is the students and creating learning spaces for them,” he said.
Johnson said they are still working on the design for the performance auditorium, but things are taking shape quickly.
“We are really excited about how the space is starting to develop,” he said.
The elementary school design process is much further along and the construction documents are complete, Gatewood reported. Ian Jones of DLR Group reiterated the basic design concept during the May 11 meeting,
Nature is the key element in the design. Each pod is themed after a different word from nature, like “sprout” or “seed” and the concept is continued throughout the rest of the building as well.
Elementary Principal Teresa Bray said she is excited about the project.
“I just don’t get tired of looking at it,” she said of the design and conceptual images. “It’s beautiful.”
The issues that prompted the school bond project remain in the school district, Libal said. The population of Ashland and the surrounding area continues to grow the new residential construction booming. And as a result, enrollment continues to climb.
“The need certainly hasn’t gone away,” he said.