ORLEANS – The Nauset Regional High School building project is about more than a building. It's also an invitation to imagine what education will look like in the middle of the 21st century.
In welcoming about 30 people to a community forum on the project Jan. 14 at town hall, building committee chair Greg Levasseur laid out two goals: “the education plan that shows us what we need to teach and want to teach” and “the facilities plan to show us what we need” to do that over the next 50 years.
With the support of town meetings in its four member communities and the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the project is about halfway through a six-month feasibility study. That will lead to creation of schematic designs and the presentation of a preferred option to the voters, possibly in the spring of 2020. It's expected the MSBA will shoulder around 40 percent of the cost, with completion of the project expected in 2024.
“We don't have any preconceived notions of what the solution is for this project,” said Richard Marks, the building committee's owner's project manager and president of Daedalus Projects, Inc. That's why representatives of Flansburgh Architects have been meeting intensively with students, staff, and now the public to harvest ideas.
That process continued Monday night with an invitation to attendees to share their priorities for a new or renovated Nauset High. Fondness for the unique indoors-outdoors nature of the campus was highlighted, as was the desire for any new facility to involve the community, especially by including a swimming pool.
“A pool at Nauset High School has a very long history,” Levasseur said. “In documents from 1969 (before the school opened in 1972), there was a pool on the property in that design. The communities couldn't afford it. It was on the radar 20 years ago (during a renovation project). I had $10.5 million to do everything, but the pool would have been half that. We had no water service to fill it, just a well.”
This time around, Levasseur said, “the minimum we're going to do is fix a site on campus. If the pool is built now or later, it won't interfere with the flow we're developing now. We'll have a gas line, a sewer line to service a building for a pool. (The question is) how we fund it. MSBA will be no help paying for a pool; it's on the community itself.”
The one question he's most asked in the community is about a pool, Superintendent Tom Conrad said. “We realize the financial cost. Some groups are interested in fundraising going forward. I will seek them out to see if they still have the same enthusiasm. We aren't coming back to this for a long, long time and we gotta get it right.”
Many at Monday's meeting stressed the need to stay current with new technologies. An attendee suggested giving teachers and students access to monitoring the physical plant's energy-saving devices. Another wanted to see new educational programming that would be unique to Nauset and the Outer Cape, including the opportunity to at least explore the trades.
Former regional school committee member Brian Kavanaugh pointed to declining local enrollment and wondered whether the towns “should be building a school for a thousand students. Can the taxpayers handle it?”
Kent Kovacs, an architect with the design team from Flansburgh, said the state requires planners to look at options from no-build (just bringing the campus up to code) through various percentages of renovation all the way to a new building. For planning purposes, enrollment has been set at 905. He said the faculty at the school is also very interested in improved teacher development space.
David Stephen of New Vista Design, who's working with the Flansburgh team, said meetings with staff revealed that “lots of people like the campus but feel isolated departmentally and professionally.” There was also interest in a student center.
Kovacs listed some of the drawbacks of the existing school, including limited windows, poor stormwater control, and siding and mechanical systems that must be replaced. “People feel starved for natural light,” Stephens said.
Among the faculty's top priorities for any building are teacher collaboration space, improved technology, outdoor connections and spaces, performance areas, and natural and controllable lighting.
“The library came up as people's favorite space,” Stephen said. “There's a lot about it that's real nice. We want to find more spaces like that where you can sit and be quiet and also be with a group and experience natural light.”
Community access “came up a lot,” said Stephen. “It's one of our guiding principles. MSBA wants to see this: before school, after school, weekends.”
Levasseur encouraged the audience to follow the project on the Nauset website and continue to offer comments. Noting the unique location of the school, he said, “Some days you can hear the waves crashing. In the evening, you can see the beams from the lighthouse. (The school) is long in the tooth, we know, but it's still a special place.”
If you missed Monday's community forum, others will be held at town halls in Eastham (Jan. 29), Wellfleet (Jan. 30) and Brewster (Jan. 31).