Designs unveiled for consolidated middle school in Groton

Groton — Architects this week unveiled design plans for the approximately 155,000-square-foot new consolidated middle school proposed at the former Merritt Farm property near Fitch High School.

Superintendent Michael Graner said the Permanent School Building Committee and a group of educators, from teachers to administrators of both middle schools, worked hard with the architects to ensure the design for the new middle school meets the needs of both the arts and humanities program currently at Cutler Arts and Humanities Magnet Middle School and the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program at West Side STEM Magnet Middle School.

At a Board of Education Committee of the Whole special meeting Monday, also attended by members of the Town Council and the Permanent School Building Committee, representatives from The S/L/A/M Collaborative, the architecture firm, and Arcadis, a design and consultancy firm which is assisting the town with the school projects, gave a presentation on the plans that the Board of Education is slated to vote on next month.

"We’re really happy this middle school will become a part of the Fitch campus and really allow you to share resources between those two very important schools in your district," said Amy Samuelson, senior associate at The S/L/A/M Collaborative, as she pointed out the site of the future middle school on the corner of Fort Hill and Groton Long Point Roads. 

The proposed middle school building nestles down into the hillside, so the second floor serves as the building entrance on the east side, while the lower level floor is the building entrance from the west side, she said. They are connected by a main concourse.

Samuelson said two entrances are proposed for the site. One will be through the Fitch High School parking lot, a configuration that allows for the potential sharing of buses. Buses will enter through the high school driveway and proceed to the middle school site and pull up at the entrance at the second floor of the middle school building.

For the second entrance to the site, drivers will proceed a little way up through the shared driveway with Ella T. Grasso Technical High School and then take a route up to the new middle school site, she said. Parents will be directed from the Fort Hill Road entrance and will drop off at the lower level entrance to the school.

The site will include a full-size field for athletic events, a smaller field and a softball field, Samuelson said.

The building calls for an academic wing, along with features such as makerspace and engineering labs for STEM programs, spaces for art, graphic arts and A/V production, a black-box theater that can be configured in different ways to accommodate performance and seating needs, a cafeteria space developed "as the heart of the building," a library/media center with flexible furniture and acoustic ceiling clouds, and a physical education department that includes a movement studio, fitness room and full-size gymnasium, according to the presentation.

Superintendent Michael Graner said Fitch students will be able to use the black-box theater, while middle school students may want to use the high school's theater.

Samuelson said the interior of the building will be set up with a warm wood tone and neutral colors for the floors and walls of the building, with splashes of color. Each floor will have a representative color that will make it easy for people getting on and off the elevator or the stairs to identify the floor.

Assistant Superintendent Susan Austin said students from West Side STEM Magnet Middle School are working on designing a STEM outdoor classroom space.

After the presentation, architects provided answers to questions they were asked, including explaining the building's security features and that there is room for expansion if the town's middle school student population increases in the future.

The Board of Education is anticipated to continue discussions on the plans on Dec. 17 and vote on them on Jan. 7.

Permanent School Building Committee Chairman Bob Austin-LaFrance said the project is within budget and on schedule. After the Board of Education approves the plans, the committee then would certify to the town that the plans meet the educational specifications no later than Jan. 10. A meeting with the state for final plan review is slated for Jan. 15.

"We expect to hear back from the state no later than the 25th of January, and if that’s the case, then we’ll be able to go out to bid as soon as we get that word from the state," Austin-LaFrance said. He added that the building was designed to be as flexible and usable as possible within budget.

The initial work with site preparation is slated to begin in mid-March, and the school is anticipated to be completed by July of 2020 for opening in the fall of 2020, Graner said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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