New Bennett Middle School on course for fall opening

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If anybody’s excited about the new Bennett Middle School opening next year, it’s the students.

“Oh, they really are. They’re excited  because it will have air conditioning. Right now, they don’t have that. My office has it and the nurse’s office, but that’ all. And there are no elevators,” said an enthusiastic Liza Hastings, principal.

This is her seventh year at Bennett Middle, built in the 1960s and woefully lacking technology necessary for today’s students.

The new, 161,304-square-foot building, including 3,000 square feet of community gym space, “will allow us to prepare our students for the 21st Century,” she said.

“Currently, we are very limited with technology. The new school will have interactive white boards in every class. A lot of our students come from very technology-rich elementary schools and they go on to technology-rich high schools, but they don’t have that in middle school. Now, with the new school, they will.

“We are very much looking forward to it. It will be very, very nice,” Hastings said.

Even so, the move will be bittersweet for those with treasured memories of the existing building. Hastings said there has been talk about making pieces of the gym floor keepsakes, but it isn’t yet certain.

The new school is being built on 36 acres at  523 South Division St. in Fruitland. The state is funding $30.5 million, and the state, $37.7 million.

It will be LEEDS certified, an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a geothermal building, with VRF technology, which stands for variable refrigerant flow.

There will  be a nautical theme throughout,  with the art room roof reminiscent of a clipper ship.

The architect used a Main Street concept for the center hallway, with five colors, shapes and sizes of glazed blocks in the walls.

The current Bennett Middle has 129,335 square feet, with 12 portable classrooms used for overcrowding.

A 2005 feasibility study determined it had to be replaced, according to the project profile sheet provided by Tracy Sahler, who handles public relations for the Wicomico County Board of Education.

The study revealed the need to accommodate new programs and inadequate “HVAC, fire suppression, technology systems and an energy inefficient building enclosure coupled with compliance issues,” the sheet states.

“This replacement school is designed to support the instructional program and enhance the educational experience by addressing many of the programmatic needs and physical plant accommodations required of a modern high-performance school facility,” the project profile sheet states.

“Some of the highlighted features include geothermal HVAC, life-safety measures, ADA accessibility, energy efficient lighting and controls, water conserving plumbing fixtures, site integrated storm-water management and technologically advanced instructional equipment,” it states.

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Hastings said it will be the first county school designed to achieve LEED Silver Certification.

“We’re at a very good spot with it. We are well advanced in the construction stage,” Sahler said, adding it will open in the fall. Ground was broken in 2013.

The construction manager is Whiting Turner. Becker Morgan Group is the architectural company.

“Everything is on target. Some improvements have to be made to the highway interchange. The State Highway Administration has to make it signalized. Now, there is not even a 90-degree crossover, so the SHA will make some improvements for buses,” she said.

Crossing guards won’t be there, because it would be unsafe for students to venture onto busy Route 13 and they don’t live in that area, since the new school is in Fruitland.

Once the new school opens, the existing structure will be razed to  make space for the James M. Bennett Athletic Field.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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