Westward Expansion: Upgrades at Henley and WAHS

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Architectural rendering of the view of the new WAHS Environmental Science Academy wing from the north side. Photo courtesy of Albemarle County Building Services.

Riding the last wave of school project funding from Albemarle County’s 2016 Bond Referendum are two sets of sleek and much-needed upgrades for Henley Middle School and Western Albemarle High School. Slated to break ground as soon as the semester ends in June, these projects bring both security and modernization enhancements to the two largest western district schools.

Henley’s modernization upgrades will include learning labs and collaborative spaces. Photo courtesy of Albemarle County Building Services.

Henley security and modernization plans

A portion of the referendum funds was specifically designated for improved entrance security for all county schools, ensuring that visitors are funneled directly into the school’s front office before being able to enter the rest of the school property. This process allows for proper identification and monitoring of all school visitors, volunteers, and contractors. Henley and Murray High School are the last two to receive these security upgrades, and Henley’s will be particularly striking.

The building’s main entrance, currently recessed into the front facade, will be bumped out as the administrative office staff space is moved forward, across the main front hall into an elegant, glass-walled reception area overlooking the lawn shade trees outside. Instead of running parallel to the sidewalk, the windowed front panel will be set at a diagonal with the left-side entrance doors opening into a small lobby decorated with a gallery of student art, lending the whole foyer a contemporary flair.

“The glass will really brighten up that front office space,” said Matt Wertman of Albemarle County Building Services, manager of both the Henley and WAHS projects. “To me, it’s very welcoming and inviting.”

Henley’s former central office area will be transformed into a low-intensity learning space for class activities involving collaborative work groups, and a high-intensity learning lab will be installed in another classroom on the building’s north corridor. “The ‘high-intensity’ designation means more equipment such as sinks, as well as certain types of furniture that will accommodate science experiments and project-based learning,” said Wertman.

Henley’s security upgrade will feature an modern glass-walled reception entrance. Photo courtesy of Albemarle County Building Services.

The principal’s office and an adjoining conference room will be moved closer to the front entrance, and five skylights will brighten the front and north side hallways. The media center will also receive updates, including new furniture and a digital project lab.

The total projected cost of the security and modernization projects for the school is about $1.9 million, with the construction timeline running from June until December of 2018. The interior modernization work will be prioritized this summer while students are away, and the entrance renovation will extend into the fall. A temporary entrance will be established in the school’s north (right-hand side) wing during construction.

Henley, built in 1966, is the largest middle school in the county, currently serving over 800 students from four elementary schools and projected to top 900 students within the next five years.

Principal Beth Costa can’t wait for the upgrades. “We are ecstatic about the opportunities these new spaces will provide our students and teachers,” she said. “Our teachers are very interested in identifying cross-curricular connections, developing projects, and elevating the work they have been doing for some time. It’s exciting to consider what experiences we can guarantee for all students.” Costa is looking forward to the security addition as well. “The exterior of our school will be open, welcoming, and most importantly, safer,” she said.

Architectural rendering of the view of the new WAHS Environmental Science Academy wing from the south side, facing the current ESA greenhouse. Photo courtesy of Albemarle County Building Services.

New science wing and remodeled classrooms at WAHS

Over at the high school, a larger set of renovations is in the final stages of design and development with local architecture firm VMDO. Seven classrooms in the current science wing will be remodeled and updated from their 40-year-old state, changing out the lighting, furniture, casework, and finishes, and providing more collaborative work spaces. In an area currently housing two biology classrooms and a physics room, walls will be removed and corridors opened up, and a high-intensity lab space will be installed to make the area more open and flexible.

Even more exciting is the addition of a 10,000 square foot wing to support the Environmental Science Academy (ESA), complete with three new labs and other support areas for offices, storage, and team activities. Adam Mulcahy, horticulture and environmental law teacher and director of the ESA, says the expansion will fit the program’s needs and will arrive just in time. “The goals are to have flexible spaces, interdisciplinary learning, and modern technology in these classrooms,” said Mulcahy. “These new spaces will help enormously as the program continues to grow.”

The academy currently has 130 students enrolled, with its first class preparing to graduate in the spring. Next year the ESA will add another half-cohort to the total, and the county’s planned pilot program to bus students who need transportation to the various academies may add previously unavailable students to the mix as well. The new addition will extend at an angle out from the existing science wing at the rear of the school, adjacent to the Shop area and across the parking lot from the ESA greenhouse.

“It’s going to be a little tight for the next year no matter what, but the new addition will alleviate that pressure,” said Mulcahy. The placement of the new ESA wing and the addition of sidewalks or paths from there back to the ESA greenhouse building will make a more cohesive unit, and there are plans for a stormwater swale with plantings in the center of the back parking lot as a place for runoff water to drain.

The county is currently assembling documents and finalizing designs with VMDO, and expects to post sets of plans in February and receive contractor bids by late March. Construction begins in June and will proceed in phases over 15 months to accommodate classes. “Approximately half of the classroom renovation work will be done this summer and the second half next summer, while work on the addition will span the full timeframe,” said Wertman.

Beyond the seven science classrooms to be renovated, six additional classrooms will be receiving more cosmetic upgrades, and the total project cost is projected to be $7.1 million, all completed in time for the 2019-20 school year.

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