BETHLEHEM — While work on the Bethlehem Central School District’s $32 million Capital Improvement Project is set to finish this fall, several major projects have already been completed.
The capital project, approved by voters in 2016, seeks to improve the district’s schools regarding security upgrades, select windows improvement, office space and select classroom renovations, electrical and plumbing work, more ADA-compliant restrooms, new drainage, adding parking spaces and more.
Gregg Nolte, the district’s director of facilities and operations, and JoEllen Gardner, who handles communications, gave Spotlight News a private tour of the high school on Wednesday, Jan. 22, highlighting the capital project’s progress.
The improved high school swimming pool area had opened in early September 2019 before classes began. Redone to promote the school district’s black and orange color scheme, the pool retains its original depth of at least four feet as well as its accompanying bleachers. Improvements include new filters, color-coordinated tiles and pumps. Nolte said the pool had been anticipated to open by mid-August but workers discovered that its old pipes and drainage needed to be fixed as well.
The high school’s auditorium, originally erected in 1952, is among the capital project’s biggest works and is set to open this June. As of late January, the space looked almost unrecognizable as there were many temporary metallic beams, wooden supportive planks suspended above, dusty ladders standing throughout and construction workers hauling equipment around. Nolte explained that the auditorium’s stage area is set to be raised to 25 feet and its proscenium will be widened to allow more space for users and theater productions.
The auditorium will also have renovated interior seating, new air-conditioning, be ADA-compliant, have a new production/director booth and improved acoustical ceiling and walls, which includes so-called white or grey “river rocks” being suspended from above.
The river rocks appear to be large almost-circular-like panels, inspired by rocks found at the Hudson River, according to Nolte. “A lot of the design revolved around the founding of Bethlehem which had a lot of influence from the Hudson River,” he added. “These rocks above us will help with the sound and acoustics in the auditorium; some collect and some absorb.” During the tour, the river rocks were not yet completed but their skeletal-like structure are being installed.
A redesigned entrance will also require a user to open the entrance door from the main hallway outside; they would briefly walk straight and then make a left/right turn before actually reaching the auditorium itself. “Before this [capital] project, if a talking person or some light is right out in the hallway, people could see the light or hear the person talking from inside the auditorium,” Nolte said. “The new design is going to block any outside light from getting in and you won’t hear as many sounds from outside. In turn, you wouldn’t hear stuff going on in the auditorium if you’re right out in the hallway.”
The high school’s Library Media Center was another area highlighted in the capital project.
Set to reopen soon, it has already been repainted in white, orange, yellow and turquoise to offer a more youthful glow but furniture, electronics and books have yet to be fully moved in. It will also feature a Makerspace studio space and a separate classroom for students and faculty.
Nolte noted a long-running orange ribbon design, which stretches across the LMC’s various ceilings, as a prominent feature as well as how many walls have a wavy and fluid-like design.
“I think the soft lines throughout are meant to give off a calming effect to people,” Gardner said. Nolte said it makes the LMC look more modern and inviting, accompanied with how windows have been reworked to allow more natural light inside.
Since the LMC has been closed this past year, the high school converted a classroom — room B122 — into a temporary library space with select book collections, shelves and computers. Nolte said the temporary library would be converted into a conference meeting room after the LMC opens.
Nolte also showed how the Justin T. Brown Student Information Technology HelpDesk — run by 20 student interns and a few district technicians to offer assistance with electronics — has been moved from a dark room within the LMC to having a slightly bigger space and different layout beside the LMC’s entrance. “It’s going to be more inviting and accessible to students as opposed to having to previously walk into the LMC and find it,” he said, showcasing how the new Student Help Desk has its own entrance door that faces out to the main hallway outside.
The new helpdesk opened the week of Jan. 30 and is named after
Justin Brown, a former BC technology staff member who co-founded the original student helpdesk. The 32-year-old man had worked at the district for a decade before passing away in September, 2018.
“The district held a memorial service in the fall of 2018 to celebrate Justin’s life and his impact on BC. At that time, there was not a dry eye in the room when we announced the Student Helpdesk would be renamed in his honor,” said Superintendent Jody Monroe. “More than a year later, the Justin T. Brown Information Technology Helpdesk now has a new permanent home, one that we hope he would be proud of.”
Elsewhere, the high school kitchen has been improved to have a slightly higher ceiling, a few large windows to allow sunlight in, a redesigned dishwashing area, new office space for the district’s food service director and assistant, two new freezers and a new fridge. Restrooms are still undergoing renovations and will be ADA-compliant, and the old employee training space in the district’s transportation building is being redone too.
Although there is more work scheduled across the district through this summer, Nolte expressed optimism that everything will finish by this fall as scheduled and gratitude to students, faculty and parents for bearing with the ongoing construction work so far.
For more information on the capital project’s works, visit www.bethlehemschools.org/capital-project-update.