Northampton BOE approves designs for new high school

Published 4:12 pm Friday, July 14, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

JACKSON – After several months of planning, the schematic design for Northampton County’s new high school has been approved by the county’s school board.

Hal Bowen and Emily Earle, representatives from RATIO Design Architects, presented details of the floor plans and renderings during a presentation at the Board of Education’s regular meeting on July 10.

Bowen explained that since their contract with the Board of Education began in January, they have worked closely with the “steering committee” of district staff members and also held “visioning workshops” with the community in order to determine what will be best to include in the school designs.

Out of those meetings, Bowen said they developed guiding principles for what should be the focus in a high school where all students are able to thrive. Those principles included an emphasis on performing arts, mental health support, more STEAM opportunities, collaborative learning, a welcoming environment, and a school which reflects the values of the community.

The new school will be located on a 63-acre parcel of land on Highway 305 just outside of Jackson’s town limits. The county commissioners agreed earlier this year to provide money (totaling $1.5 million) for the land purchase, and the purchase itself is expected to be completed sometime after August 1.

Along with the main classroom building, the school campus will also include a football stadium and track (with seating for 1,500 people), a fieldhouse, a multipurpose practice field (to be used for P.E. and other athletics), baseball and softball fields, a promenade leading to the stadium, and an outdoor classroom space.

Bowen noted that the promenade area is “a great opportunity for outdoor gathering” and the outdoor classroom space can help promote mental health and wellness for students.

Inside the school building itself, Earle explained that they came up with a T-shaped design and oriented the building “to receive ideal north-south day lighting” which will reduce glare in the classrooms.

The classroom wing includes core classrooms (English, math, science, etc) on one end and Career and Technical Education (CTE) classrooms on the other. Special education classrooms will be located in the middle. The classroom wing also includes a student collaborative commons area.

“It’s a space where students can just go out and work collaboratively on projects outside the classroom,” she explained.

The rest of the building also includes administrative offices, a dining area, media center, gym, and an auditorium (able to seat 250 people).

If the project remains on schedule, construction is expected to begin in December 2024 and conclude June 2026.

“That will hopefully give you about two months to move into the school,” Bowen said.

The project is being financed by a $50 million grant that the school district received last year from the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund (NBPSCF), a program created by the NC General Assembly in 2017 to help address critical school facility needs.

According to Bowen, the project is about $7.4 million over the $50 million budget when including “soft costs” and also factoring in the impact of inflation. But he also announced that the state legislature is considering doling out more Needs-Based funds because these school construction projects all over the state are running into the same problems with inflation.

That amount could total $10 million, which would take care of the project cost overrun. They expect to know about the funding sometime in August.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So we want to get the school that’s going to serve your community best and with what you want,” Bowen concluded.

After the presentation, the Board was able to ask questions about the design. Clinton Williams asked about several items, including security measures.

“Security is always important with schools,” Bowen agreed. “We want to have a secure school without it looking secure. We want it to look inviting and friendly.”

Bowen explained that the main entryway will be a secured entrance and any other exterior doors will be accessible by a card swipe only. Other features include windows with better visibility in and out of the building, security cameras throughout the campus, lots of outdoor lighting, and security barriers to block off the classroom spaces when the public is attending events in the gym or auditorium.

He also noted they will continue developing security details as they continue into the next phase of planning.

Board member Dr. Marjorie Edwards motioned to approve the schematic design, and Williams seconded. The vote was unanimously in favor.

“I’ve been waiting for this for 13 years,” said Board Chair Rhonda Taylor after the approval.

“I believe it’s time for Northampton County to come up and have nice things for our children,” added Edwards.