DELMAR — The Bethlehem Central School District has been undergoing renovations and construction work since this spring as part of its $32.2 million capital project that was approved by voters in 2016.
With an overall targeted completion by September or October 2020, the project would improve the district’s schools in terms of security upgrades, electrical and plumbing work, renovating office spaces and certain classrooms, new drainage, more ADA-compliant restrooms, select windows improvement, adding parking spaces and more. For a comprehensive list of works listed per school, visit www.bethlehemschools.org/departments/facilities/#Capital.
The project’s two main highlights are the renovation of the current high school’s auditorium and Library Media Center. The former is slated for completion in April 2020; the latter is slated to reopen as early as this November.
On Thursday, Aug. 1, Gregg Nolte, BCSD’s director of facilities and operations, offered Spotlight News a private tour of the high school campus to showcase the work’s progress there. He said that work has been ongoing as well at the middle and elementary schools in the meantime.
The original high school auditorium, first constructed in 1952, looks unrecognizable now as a giant rectangular hole above has now allowed sunlight onto the former stage. The familiar interior seating and aisles have been overtaken by metallic bars and construction equipment. The renovation, which began this April, is expected to renovate the seating and stage, expand the stage’s proscenium, add air-conditioning, a new sound and lighting system, and take up parts of the outside lobby.
This would help enlarge the auditorium’s space to better serve future elaborate productions, set designs and ensembles. Speaking of which, for the 2019-20 year, Nolte said that high school theater productions, depending on their size, would use the middle school’s auditorium or The Egg in Albany while construction continues.
The high school’s Library Media Center was closed just after Memorial Day. Originally birthed in 1967 and enlarged in 1996, it will be entirely renovated to have more teaching and study space, a welcoming central seating area, makerspaces and interactive classrooms, a new entrance to the Information Technology Helpdesk to better serve high student traffic than before, and wider windows to allow in more sunlight.
The LMC has been temporarily moved to room B122 where select book collections, shelves and computers are available in the meantime.
“Depending on the curriculum in the fall, we only moved the books and materials students are expected to need there,” said Nolte. “The rest of the books and materials are in a temporary storage area. … It took a lot of planning like knowing how many books we have, how many can fit on a shelf, how to organize them and it’s a lot of moving parts.”
Nolte added that the temporary LMC will be shut down once the official one is renovated and reopened, and it will turn into a conference meeting room. When asked if the temporary LMC may face potential overcrowding once the fall semester begins, he said this LMC is designed to have an open-flow feel and that students may hang at the cafeteria more or at designated hallway spaces if needed.
Elsewhere, the high school’s kitchen, which closed in June and is expected to reopen in October or November, would elevate its ceiling height, see new lighting and have a separate office from the kitchen prep area. Its freezer and cooler have been removed since renovation work began.
“We’ve since done a lot with temporary serving lines, we’ve adjusted our offerings of food,” said Nolte on the kitchen and cafeteria’s progress. “Part of the cafeteria is now a storage area and we also had to completely move out the custodial department for now. We also took a faculty break room and turned it into a temporary prep room. We did all this in house.”
Also, the swimming pool area will have tile and equipment upgrades, a refinished steel structure and witness the replacement of its old pipes and starting blocks. However, Nolte said that its original target completion date has been pushed back due to unforeseen circumstances. “We first wanted to get it done by August 15 or 19 when sports starts but we realized we had to basically put in a whole new pool drain and that’s delayed us,” he said. “So now we’re probably looking towards the second week of September. The students will be training and practicing at the [Elm Avenue Park] town pool until then.”
Overall, Nolte believed that the project’s work was forecasted to try to limit affecting the students’ learning environment as much as possible, like by going full speed with construction during the summer. Acknowledging that construction work still would continue past the summer, he said, “We’re constantly meeting with the impacted groups and users, and asking, ‘When would be best to do this?’ Every week, we’re always looking at our schedule and adjusting. The pool has been the biggest setback but we’re getting through it.”
Saying that the renovation works at the LMC, auditorium and kitchen will be mostly distanced from the general student population during class time, he said, “At that point, there’s not going to be jackhammers and stuff like that. We’re going to be beyond that.”
When asked why the capital project is important right now, Nolte explained that it is essential to do improvements or repairs well before something that is left unchecked causes damage in the future.
“What’s real nice about this project was that it’s not just about boring maintenance items although we do always keep on top of that,” he concluded. “We’ve done some educational components to bring us to different levels of technology like in the LMC and to include more different types of learning environments. We also have a great music and theater program and this project is going to elevate that tremendously. This is going to give a lot of tools for teachers and students and we’re really excited about that.”