Planning the next Ames High School

The 2010-11 school year marks the 50th anniversary of the first classes in the current Ames High School. While the current building doesn’t seem quite that old due to the numerous additions (front and back lobbies, fine arts wing, and cafeteria) and updates (such as closing off the former library to make the foreign language rooms), it is beginning to show its age. Therefore, as a part of their long-range facilities plan, the Ames Community School Board is beginning to consider the future of Ames High. StruXture Architects, the Waterloo firm hired by the board last year to provide consultation on the district’s buildings, recently presented four options to update the high school building, three of which involve renovation and the fourth being a completely new building constructed on the fields to the southeast of the present school. The upside of renovation, according to board member Francis Todey, is that it could use existing structures that do not need extensive work: “Are there options that allow parts of the building to be remodeled and used as part of a rebuilt/remodeled building?” (The cafeteria, kitchen, and north loading dock, finished in 2004, would be the most likely component of the current building to remain if the school is remodeled.) On the other hand, time and level of disruption to students is a major factor in the planning. “How long the high school would take depends on whether a completely new building is built (3 years) or whether a series of upgrades were performed each summer (perhaps 6-10 years),” board member John Hascall said. AHS principal Spence Evans recently spoke to the board about his view of the options. “He suggested the Board consider building new to minimize the distraction over several years as well as to design to meet [and] accommodate the needs of education today and into the future,” board member Dan Woodin said. “I’m all for it–the less distraction to students, the better,” Evans said. “With renovation, there would be a lot of noise and distraction. I don’t even want to think about 15 years of that.” In all four options presented by StruXture, the one constant wing of the school to be completely redone is the auditorium. “I would like to see a fine arts wing that includes a bigger auditorium than we currently have,” board president Mary Jurenka said. Evans agrees. “We have so many great productions, but right now, the audience for band and orchestra concerts sometimes have to sit in the aisle ways,” he said. He would also like to have the gym and auditorium as a separate part of the building, as well as condensing the whole school in general. “The problem with the school is that it’s so spread out,” he said. “It’s a nightmare to secure.” Students who attended AHS in the first ten years of the current building must have had a nice view of the prairie and Iowa State University from south-facing windows; however, the addition of the gym and fine arts wing enclosed the courtyard and blocked those views. Evans thinks that the new building should take advantage of the prairie vista: “It’s very unique to Ames High,” he said. “We need to showcase it.” With these things in mind, how soon can we expect ground to be broken on the fifth Ames High School building? Each school board member stresses that the elementary schools will be addressed and rebuilt first, of which “a short estimate might be 6-7 years while a long estimate could be 10 years or longer,” according to board member David Putz. When the length of construction is added on, depending on the type of construction decided upon, “it could take 15 or 20 years to fully complete all the work that needs to be accomplished,” Todey said. Woodin points out the interconnectivity of the elementary and high school plans: “For example, if we decide to build a new high school on the south portion of the current site…we’ll want to determine when/where to move the pool, tennis courts, and softball field prior to the construction…[possibly] to the current Fellows Elementary School site,” he said. “That then requires that a new elementary school be built to relocate the students attending Fellows and so goes the discussions as a comprehensive plan evolves.” This plan, which also includes the district offices and maintenance shop, is burrowed into the board’s tight schedule alongside budget-tightening considerations. Board member Paul Sodders expects the plan to be finished fairly soon: “I think we’ll see a combination of things happening at once,” he said. “We just haven’t made those decisions yet. I hope we do over the next couple of months.”