Racing to beat the budget: Construction nears completion at East Hampton High School

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The East Hampton High School was “starting to look like a school,” again this week, said School Board President James Amaden, as construction crews were all hands on deck to finish the last pieces of the $80 million expansion project before the school year starts on September 13.

The project followed an aggressive construction schedule, said contractor Frank Messano, vice president and senior project manager of Park East Construction, and will be completed on time and on budget. At the peak of construction this summer, Mr. Messano said there were about 140 workers at the site and over the next couple of weeks crews will be working overtime to finish up and clear out.

“I think it was certainly a blessing to the crew that school starts so late this year,” Superintendent Ray Gualtieri said, adding at last week’s School Board meeting that there was no alternative to finishing on time.

Dr. Gualtieri said starting the new school year in the renovated and expanded high school building marks the end of a seven-year process. He said when he joined the district in 2003, he was set to the task of developing a new facilities plan and spent the year conducting community surveys through which he learned that the public would rather see one big expansion project instead of numerous smaller renovations. The public first turned down a $89 million referendum before approving the current plan.

The first part of the $79 million project was to install the artificial turf playing field behind the high school, which was completed three years ago, and relocate the tennis courts so the construction would not interrupt sporting events, Dr. Gualtieri said; and last year, the fifth grade wing and new cafeteria opened at John Marshall Elementary School. The heating and air system was also revamped at all three school buildings and asbestos was removed from the elementary school.

The middle school also had some interior renovations, Dr. Gualtieri said, including new science labs. The front entrance to the middle school is also being redone, but will likely not be ready for the first day of school.

The majority of the work was done to the high school, which was “totally, 100-percent cosmetically redone,” Dr. Gualtieri said. All of the building’s walls were repainted and classrooms were refurbished. The entrance, when completed this week, will feature a tall, sleek new design. The main office and guidance offices were bumped out and redone, and the roughly 90,000-square-foot addition includes the district office, a cafeteria and kitchen, gymnasium, locker rooms, library and new classrooms. The cafeteria is about 3,500 square feet and has floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides to maximize day lighting, said Mr. Messano. The addition adds 20 new classrooms to the building, Dr. Gualtieri said, enabling the district to remove all of its trailers, which housed 12 classrooms. The parking lot was also redone and a bus loop was added, which will be used for the first time this year because the ongoing construction at the front of the school didn’t allow for school buses to pass through.

The library and a remedial gym will not be open on the first day of school, Dr. Gualtieri said, but will be completed by the end of September. He said the heating and air systems will also be completed after school opens.

Mr. Amaden and School Board member Stephen Talmage, who are both on the board’s facilities committee, said they have had regular Tuesday meetings with the contractors all summer to check on the building’s progress, and both said they were pleased with the way the construction had panned out.

“What’s happened in the last week is pretty dramatic,” Mr. Amaden said at the board meeting. “A lot of the debris was cleared out, the ceiling tiles are going up.”

Mr. Talmage said the original construction plans were not scheduled to be completed until 2011, but when Park East Construction was brought in for the project, it was able to move up the timeline.

Mr. Talmage said the heating and air systems have been installed but need to be tested, which will not take place until after school has opened. He said though the school building will still require some cleanup and finishing touches, none of the outstanding work will affect the students, faculty and staff.

“All of the health and safety concerns are taken care of,” he said. “That’s not an issue.”

The high school renovations, which were designed by Beatty, Harvey and Associates, make the building the first high school in New York State to meet the High Performance School guidelines, called the CHPS program. The program requires designers and builders to follow a strict set of guidelines to create the most efficient building. Mr. Messano said the guidelines also 
infiltrate the construction process, and his crew was required to separate all waste materials for recycling.

Dr. Gualtieri said the use of day lighting throughout the building makes it more efficient, as does the upgraded heating and air systems. Overhead lights are motion-censored throughout the new addition, he said, so they will turn off if no one is in the room. Even the landscaping was taken into consideration, he said, and only indigenous species were used around school grounds.

Dr. Gualtieri said he’s “thrilled” to see the process come to an end and he thinks the new facilities will boost school morale.

“When I first came here, what I was hearing was that students were proud to be from East Hampton and embarrassed to go to East Hampton,” he said. “Especially the locker rooms, they were embarrassed to have other teams see what the school looked like. This was a long time coming.”

Mr. Talmage, who was critical of the building’s design when it was first presented, said he was impressed with the final product nonetheless.

“It’s a very nice building,” he said. “It looks like it’s what our students and staff needed.”

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