Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Fredericksen Updates Board of Education, Community on Status of the Bennett Middle School Construction Project
At the Jan. 13 meeting of the Wicomico County Board of Education, Superintendent Dr. John Fredericksen updated the Board on the status of the Bennett Middle School project in Fruitland. This construction project is within budget and on track to open to students in August 2015, as originally scheduled, said Dr. John Fredericksen, Superintendent of Schools.
Whiting-Turner is doing an excellent job of managing this project, he said, and the school system is looking forward to having Bennett Middle school teachers and staff visit the building soon. “The construction project will be finished as scheduled within the next few months, and we will begin preparing the school to welcome its first students at the end of this summer.”
The new Bennett Middle will be a high-performance, LEED certified, energy-efficient school, as required by the state. The 161,304-square-foot school (including 3,000 square feet of community gym space) is designed to serve 988 students in grades 6, 7 and 8. The project is funded by Wicomico County and the State of Maryland.
No school renovation or construction project in Wicomico County takes place without a favorable recommendation from the County’s School Building Commission, prior to votes by the Board of Education to pursue a project and the Wicomico County Council to issue bonds to fund a project. State planning and funding approval is only granted after years of careful, detailed study.
Throughout this process, the Board of Education and its staff rely heavily on teams of competent and capable outside professionals in the design, engineering and construction fields. This is true from the selection of sites and various development studies that must be performed, through design and engineering and up through the construction of our school facilities. The County’s School Building Commission provides oversight, advice and guidance to help guide the school system through the entire process.
“Recent online comments have questioned aspects of the Bennett Middle project, including the soil at the site, the geothermal system for heating and cooling, and concrete conditions. I do not know what may have precipitated all of the recent talk, but I feel it is important to set the record straight,” Dr. Fredericksen said. Please know that:
- Bennett Middle School is not sinking or experiencing any sort of settlement problems due to substandard soil conditions. These allegations are just not true. The soil conditions of this parcel of land were looked at early on in the process. While the original soil conditions may not have been ideal, extensive soil borings and analysis were done to determine the suitability of the site as part of the selection. It was determined that with the proper engineering, undercut, and fill, the site could be made suitable for building a school. These additional costs were factored in as part of the site selection process.
- There have been questions with regard to ponding and drainage problems at the new school; again, this is not a problem. Unlike previous developed sites, Bennett Middle School’s site is constructed to incorporate several smaller runoff collection basins located around the site. These basins known as “submerged gravel wetlands” are now a state-required accepted practice as opposed to the once constructed storm water management ponds that can be seen at other school sites.These runoff control devices are indeed different from what we are all used to and by regulation these areas are required to be protected during the construction process. They cannot fully function until they are complete. This requires inlet protection, flow diversion and the use of temporary ponds to manage runoff and provide settlement and erosion control. All of this is inspected periodically by state inspectors to ensure compliance. Site drainage and management has been and remains an important aspect of this project and from all indications we believe that when all temporary measures have been removed, the site will be well drained as designed.
- With regard to the new geothermal plant: All is well with the plant. The design is intact, there is no problem with the well field or well pipes, and no retrofit or redesign of the system is under consideration to incorporate boilers for heating. None of the rumors or allegations that the system is not working are true. It is true that the system is not operating at 100% on a continuous basis but that is because construction is still in progress and we are currently going through system checks, start-ups, and commissioning on various systems. It is also true that we have large hot water heaters as part of the original design but they are not boilers, they are only there to provide domestic hot water for the school. In fact we are beginning to operate the plant now and it seems to be working just fine. We are actually looking forward to the operation of the new system as it will be one of our most energy efficient schools when it becomes fully operational. Projections indicate that it will save us considerable dollars in energy costs to operate.
- There has also been concern expressed about “cracking” of the concrete floors as a result of some sort of settlement.Again, this is not accurate.While there is a problem with the concrete flooring on the second floor it is not cracking, nor is it a structural problem. It appears to be a problem with the concrete and the finish. The concern has been looked into by the engineers and architects and the floor slab has been tested and analyzed. The entire matter has been reviewed by the School Building Commission and is being addressed by the Construction Manager and its contractors.It is worth noting that the new Bennett Middle School has been designed not to use vinyl tile flooring, but to have exposed polished concrete floors in most of the areas throughout the school for reasons of long term wear and ease of care. Therefore, it is very important that the final concrete floor finish be right and acceptable and we are working to make sure that happens.
As the new Bennett Middle School nears completion, planning is underway to complete the final phase of the James M. Bennett High School project. This will involve demolishing the old Bennett Middle and finalizing the use of the full Bennett site for the high school.
“We are pleased with the progress that is being made for Wicomico County students and families, and look forward later this year to providing the community with the opportunity to see firsthand how the school system, Board of Education, County government, and State are working together to provide an excellent learning environment for Wicomico students,” Dr. Fredericksen said.