Voters to Decide Fate of SHS Renovation Plan

January 24, 2014

by S. Aaron Shamshoyan

It’s been nearly 50 years since Salem High School was built.  Just like any aging building, there is a growing list of problems becoming more urgent to fix.

Feeling that urgency, the school board will be presenting voters with a plan to renovate the school, repairing mechanical problems and reconfiguring the building for an updated learning environment.

Last week, Superintendent Michael Delahanty told school board members the renovation committee extensively reviewed three options and the proposed plan was selected.

The three plans included: building a new school; repairing aging systems in the current building; and a comprehensive renovation that was ultimately recommended.

Delahanty said a new building was estimated to cost nearly $112 million plus additional costs for land and development.  He said the current high school would need to be maintained while a new structure was built.

The second plan, coined the “band-aid” approach, would cost nearly $35 million to complete and did not include reconfiguration to the building with updated learning spaces.  “We’re not going to have a different building,” Delahanty said.

The final plan, which voters will decide on this March, includes demolition and reconstruction of parts of the building and reconfiguring many spaces allowing for updates to meet current guidelines.

Principal Tracy Collyer said now was the best time to renovate the school, citing state funding to offset the $75 million price tag.

Collyer said nearly $11 million in state aid was available to help fund the Career and Technical Education center renovation.  She said interest rates, around three percent, were also attractive for the bonds and low construction costs would minimize the price.

The school is currently plagued with electrical and wiring issues, along with security faults.  Collyer said the “band- aid” approach would not deal with security upgrades.  She added the current building does not have a fire suppression sprinkler system.

Vocational Director Christopher Dodge said the renovation would build core spaces, such as the auditorium and gymnasium, for 1,400 students; but design classrooms for 1,200.

The CTE center would have new spaces with a public access way for the community to enter a new cosmetology program along with a culinary program, among other changes.

“There’s never going to be a better time,” Delahanty said about the project.

Board Chairman Bernie Campbell said the school would be without an auditorium for 16 months during the renovation, as it will be completely rebuilt.

Board member Michael Carney agreed with the renovation plans.  “It’s an old building folks,” he said.

Member Pam Berry said the building was designed for different purposes than its current function.

The board plans to hold public forums to discuss the project along with informational sessions and tours.