AES project moves forward

Published 10:37 am Monday, September 25, 2017

WINTON – Plans to build a new Ahoskie Elementary School are gaining steam, to include the hiring of an architectural firm.

At their regularly scheduled meeting here Monday night, the Hertford County Board of Commissioners received several updates on the project, one that has seriously been in the works for well over one year.

Dr. William T. Wright, Superintendent of Hertford County Public Schools, told the commissioners that a Stakeholders Planning Committee was formed earlier this year, a group put together of county leaders and business owners to discuss moving forward with construction of the new school.

That group also formatted a request for qualifications to seek an architect for the project. Eight companies expressed an interest, and the committee conducted face-to-face interviews with six of those architectural firms.

Andre Lassiter, Chair of the New Ahoskie Elementary School Committee, told the commissioners at Monday night’s meeting that the interviews centered on the building plans submitted by those firms, how the building would fit on the property selected for the new school, and how the building could expand with additions should that become warranted in the future due to a rise in student population.

After the interviews were completed, the committee selected SFL +A Architects of Raleigh.

“They are currently the lead architect of a school in Wilmington similar to what we are proposing to build in Ahoskie,” Lassiter said. ‘We feel this firm is the best fit for us going forward.”

Lassiter noted that the replacement of Ahoskie Elementary School, built in the 1950’s, is “long, long overdue.”

Thomas Hughes of SFL +A Architects attended Monday’s meeting and offered some insight on the pending project. He stressed that his firm deals primarily with designing new schools.

“I’ve been designing educational facilities for the better part of 30 years,” Hughes said.

Hughes laid out a plan that calls for an estimated 125,000 square foot facility to serve 500 students in the fourth and fifth grades. The cost of the project is estimated at between $15 million and $16 million.

“That price includes the consideration for an auditorium,” Hughes said. “We’re also looking at building an energy efficient facility, the less money you have to pay in energy costs means more money you can put into the education of your children here in Hertford County.”

Hughes stressed that his passion for design is structured upon, “building an educational environment that gets kids excited about education.”

Site location for the new school is on county-owned property along the back edge of Bearfield Primary School.

“It will be a tight fit, but after talking to Mr. Hughes, I believe we’ll be able to site the new Ahoskie Elementary School on that parcel of land,” said Dr. Wright.

The Superintendent said based on the current number of 4th and 5th graders enrolled at Ahoskie Elementary, if the new school had opened this year, the space requirements would be less than 500 students.

“We’re looking at future growth for that school, based upon the population base in our county being in the Ahoskie area,” Wright remarked.

As for the auditorium, Wright stressed the need for 600 seats.

Commissioner Curtis Freeman asked if the plans calling for an auditorium was exactly that, or was it more along the lines of a multi-purpose “gymtorium.”

“The auditorium is a separate facility,” Hughes answered. “In a gymtorium setting, everyone sits basically flat to the floor, meaning you’re looking at the back of someone’s head seated in front of you. An auditorium setting is built on a floor plan that slopes down to the stage. Plus, an auditorium can serve as a centerpiece for the entire community. If you can afford it, an auditorium is the better way to go.”

Commission Chairman Ronald Gatling asked about other options should the county want to save money on the project by excluding the auditorium.

“Then you look at a stage in a gym,” Hughes remarked. “You look towards a larger multi-purpose area, complete with a full basketball court. The downside is that a multi-purpose facility gets more wear and tear than an auditorium.”

Dr. Wright said a multi-purpose area at the new school would be consistent with what is currently in use at both Riverview Elementary and Bearfield Primary.

“While we want our children to have the best things and place them in an environment that promotes education, there are other driving forces with this proposal to build a new school,” said Hertford County Manager Loria Williams. “The main thing is cost. This board is responsible for approving any new schools, and they must keep in mind what we can afford to add to our existing debt service. So I would encourage you, Dr. Wright, to keep us informed and up to date as the plans for this new school develop.”

In that vein, Dr. Wright informed Williams that there are grants available from the state for new school construction, especially in rural Tier 1 counties, and he would leave an application with her to fill out and submit.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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