By Kevin O’Rourke
The new Seneca Valley High School took a big step toward becoming a reality on Tuesday when the Montgomery County Board of Education has approved the preliminary plans for the revitalization and reconstruction of Seneca Valley High School.
The long awaited project move closer to being a reality as the BOE unanimously approved the plans for the new school building.
The preliminary plans approved on Tuesday for the Seneca Valley High School revitalization/expansion project were developed based on the educational specifications prepared by MCPS. Through a series of public meetings, several design alternatives were developed and evaluated. The proposed plans presented herein were reviewed and subsequently modified in accordance with recommendations and suggestions received during the schematic design meetings.
The advisory process had a members of Seneca Valley’s staff and administration, as well as parents, neighbors and members of the MCPS Central Office.
The Preliminary Plans brochure prepared by Moseley Architects says, “Based on the condition of the existing facility and the cost to bring the school into compliance with code requirements, the most cost effective solution is to construct a replacement facility adjacent to the existing school. The capacity of the school will increase from 1,374 students to 2,423 students with a core capacity for 2,400 students. The increased capacity to Seneca Valley High School provides the opportunity to address projected overutilization of nearby Clarksburg and Northwest high schools through student reassignments in the future.”
The brochure estimates that the construction contracts would be awarded by the Board of Education in July of 2016, with building to be completed by August of 2018 and the site to be completed by August 2019. The cost for the new school contraction is estimated to be $130 million.
The new construction will move the school deeper towards the middle of the property, and the main parking lot and bus loop will enter from Crystal Rock Drive. The new football/soccer stadium will be moved closer to Great Seneca Highway, where the current practice field is. Staff parking will enter from Wisteria Drive. The southeast corner will be a new softball field, while the northwest corner will be a new baseball field. Tennis courts and basketball courts will be added along Middlebrook Road.
“This has been an incredible process,” Seneca Valley’s Principal Marc Cohen told the Board of Education on Tuesday. “The collaboration, the excitement that I have seen from the Germantown and the Seneca Valley community has been unbelievable. It’s just amazing to see how the community has come together. I get calls almost weekly from alumni and families of alumni who want nothing more than to see an amazing new school build on what some of our former athletes have called hallowed ground. It seems fitting that some of the new school is going to be built on the surface of our current football field.”
The preliminary plans brochure said, “The proposed replacement building, designed to meet MCPS educational specifications, will be a steel-framed structure with brick veneer and masonry interior walls,” according to the brochure. “The building will be designed in two main sections: a three-story classroom wing and a two-story public wing. The public wing houses the auditorium, athletic facilities, and the student dining room. The instructional media center, athletic facilities, and auditorium will be available for after-hours use, while the remainder of the building remains secured. The administrative suite located at the main entrance to the building, incorporates a securable glass vestibule that requires all visitors to check-in at the main office before entering the school. The main entrance to the school will be visible from Middlebrook Road and Crystal Rock Drive. The academic wing will be organized around two large courtyards that will provide natural light to interior classrooms and provide efficient, conveniently monitored interior circulation. A three-story master -planned 17-classroom addition will be included in the design to accommodate future growth.”
A School-based Wellness Center that was recently approved by the County Council in May 2014 will be designed as an add-alternate. Funding for the SBWC is included in the Department of Health and Human Services Capital Improvements Program.
School-based Wellness Centers are health centers, located in a school or on a school campus, which provide onsite comprehensive preventive and primary health services. There are currently seven such centers in Montgomery County.
The preliminary plans call for the new school to have 54 standard classrooms, 16 science labs, two gymnasiums, seven physical education team rooms, six project/collaboration rooms, six science preparation rooms, four music practice rooms, three computer labs, four art rooms, two health classrooms, two School Community-based classrooms, a greenhouse, a darkroom, an auto technology room, a choral room, drama classroom, and a dance studio.
“One of the things that I find so exceptional about Seneca Valley,” said Board member Rebecca Smondrowski, “is the inside pride and energy that the students have about the school. When I see the plans for this new building I feel like it really reflects to the outside what you can feel on the inside of the school.”
In September, when MCPS Superintended Joshua K. Starr released his Capital Improvements Program budget he recommending moving the revitalization and expansion of Seneca Valley High School up to 2018. He recommended completion dates of August 2018 for the facility and 2019 for the site.
Starr also called for the project to be increased in scope to increase the school’s capacity to 2,400 students—1,000 more than the current level— and allow some of the additional space to be used to alleviate projected overcrowding at Clarksburg and Northwest high schools.
Once the Board approved Starr’s recommendations things moved quickly. With a feasibility study conducted in 2011 by Moseley Architects P.C., and the funds to begin the architectural design for the project approved as part of a FY 2014 appropriation.
Later that month, the Board entered into a contractual agreement with Ijamsville-based Dustin Construction, Inc. to provide preconstruction services cost estimating, value engineering, constructability reviews, and the development of the construction implementation schedule the project for a fee of $175,000.
In November the Board of Education heard testimony from Seneca Valley student Sami Mullah regarding the need for a new school. Mullah, a junior, told the Board that while he has “absolutely loved” his experience at Seneca Valley, initially he didn’t want to attend the school due to the many problems with the building.
“Our HVAC system is very unreliable where it can be uncomfortably hot at school on a winter day and extremely cold on a summer day. Because of this, you might see students going to school in shorts when its 40 degrees outside or students going to school in sweatpants when its 90 degrees out. Last year one of the panels of our occasionally leaking ceiling in the cafeteria caved in and fell onto a table where students were eating lunch,” said Mullah.
Later at the November meeting, the Board approved a $4.1 million payment to Moseley Architects P.C. to provide professional architectural and engineering services for the Seneca Valley High School project.
“Great things are happening in the Germantown community,” said Cohen, “and they are so excited about what this new building says to them about how their needs will be met, they are so excited about what it means to our elementary students in the school’s feeder programs who are going to be the first to be educated in the new school.”
“I know that there are others in Germantown who are watching this on television who are probably wiping tears knowing that this new school is what they will be able to send their children to,” said Cohen.