By Meg O’Neil
The Pell Building Committee met on Tuesday, May 1 to receive an update on the construction process of the Claiborne deB. Pell Elementary School.
According to project manager Jim Farrar of Farrar & Associates, the construction process at the Dexter St. site is on schedule, and the general contractor has graded the site, removed all top soils, and is ready to begin laying the foundation.
“We’re increasing manpower at the site on a daily basis,” Farrar said. “We’re still at the early part of the project, but we certainly feel there is a good atmosphere, a good general contractor, and a good team that’s been put together and things are moving in a positive direction.”
While site work is moving smoothly, Farrar said that decisions on the school’s exterior masonry work and cafeteria kitchen were time sensitive and needed to be made by the committee in order for the process to stay on track.
In response, the committee voted to accept the addition of an all-brick exterior to the school, with one opposing vote coming from committee member Beth Milham.
A long-debated cost and aesthetic issue, the decision to add a complete brick exterior to the school would remove $95,000 from the project’s $1.6 million contingency fund. Previously, the committee had discussed the use of concrete masonry units (CMUs), which are larger, less-expensive blocks which would have been applied to the back wall of the school.
Milham opposed the all-brick exterior, questioning its educational value to the project. “To me, this is just someone’s aesthetic opinion,” she said.
For others, the decision in favor of bricks represented a long-fought-for victory. School committee member Robert J. Leary, who has been vocal about his desire to see bricks on the Pell School, said, “I’m a happy man. Brick is time-tested and fits in with history of Newport. We don’t know how long CMU will last. All you have to do is look at historic buildings in Newport that are made of brick. They’ve been around for hundreds of years.”
Other aspects of the project that the committee will vote on in future meetings are: the installation of site trees at $132,000; installation of a playground structure for $220,000; a movable partition in the cafeteria for $23,250; upgrading the school’s north lawn into a soccer field for $43,992; sunscreens for $193,000; additional lighting for $34,000; a partial geothermal well for $408,000, and an exterior wall insulation upgrade for $51,000.
The final discussion item dealt with the school’s kitchen.
Aiming to make the kitchen’s work area as efficient as possible, the district’s Nutrition Advisory Group created a modified kitchen plan that they said would improve the flow of the kitchen, adding 80 square feet of usable space.
According to NAG, the current kitchen design from HMFH Architects contains flaws that would inhibit work flow and delay food production. For instance, opening a door to the walk-in freezer would allow only 11.75 inches of space between the door and a work station, causing a person working at a station to have to move every time the door opened.
The second point made by NAG was that the receiving door, where all food deliveries would enter the kitchen, is not effective in its current location. In the HMFH plans, the walk-ins and food storage areas are at the opposite end of the kitchen from the doorway. According to Chef Nate Phelps, a member of NAG, this would make it necessary for employees to weave their way around equipment and people – a potential safety hazard.
Rather than spend $14,000 for new kitchen design plans, the Building Committee voted to allow Laura Wernick, Principal Architect from HMFH, to examine the possibility of creating moveable table stations and reducing the size of the walk-in freezers, creating a more workable kitchen flow.
The Newport School Committee will vote on the building committee’s recommendations at their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, May 8, in room 924 of the Newport Area Career and Technical Center at Rogers High School.