The new wing of the New Paltz Middle School is open for business

New Paltz Middle School (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Despite weather delays ruining the chances of a formal ribbon-cutting beforehand, the new wing of the New Paltz Middle School was open for business when the kids returned on Wednesday. Some finishing details may be put off until the next school break, but it’s an insignificant time for a project that is the culmination of public discourse that stretches back well over a decade.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Richard Linden recently took reporters and faculty representatives on a tour of the new wing. They were joined by Tom Chesser, representing construction manager Palumbo Group.

While the new wing is barely visible from Main Street and completely hidden from South Manheim Boulevard, it’s not at all small. Parallel to the sixth-grade wing which runs along Manheim, the new wing includes a much larger library and brand-new band and chorus rooms, as well as a technology shop and classroom.

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The new and old wings together form a courtyard that faces Lincoln Place, which is where bus drivers will collect and drop off their charges. Students walk under a second-floor hallway connecting the two wings and enter a space framed by brick and glass, accessorized by retaining walls suitable for seating. Windows along the new construction — on the student’s right, upon arrival — have fixed sun shades angled to cut out the worst glare of the day, along with any distractions attached thereto. Immediately drawing the eye is a cube of glass jutting out from one corner: this will be a study nook in the library, once it’s complete and furnished.

Phasing of construction in a school in active use poses challenges. As per careful planning, many of the new rooms built with a specific purpose in mind — such as technology education — are being used for something else during construction. With the new classroom spaces finished, sixth graders will be the first to learn in these spaces, allowing the present sixth-grade wing to be closed for renovations as the next phase. Classroom spaces have been the priority, to avoid moving students during the school year. The library and chorus room, for example, won’t be complete on the first day; the old library will remain open, and chorus members will continue to rehearse on the stage as they have for some years.

While the main student entrance — for bus riders and walkers — will be in the courtyard as described, the familiar sight of parent cars clogging the approach to the school isn’t going away. Children who eschew the more carbon-friendly arrivals by bus or on foot will still be dropped off on the Main Street side. The reconfigured Manheim entrance means a slightly longer drive for those parents, but allows for more cars stacked up on school property and not backing up traffic in the morning.

In order to get parents dropping off their youngsters to play along, the entrance directly across from La Bella Pizzeria was gated and locked. That means the crosswalk there is now significantly less valuable as a safety tool; district and state officials are now in talks to get it moved, but that’s a slow process which could take some months. Getting approval of that crosswalk in the first place took months, recalled Linden.

The new wing has room for a new guidance office, and is characterized by details like single-occupancy bathrooms and moveable walls that allow for flexibility in how space is used. There’s a classroom space in the new library which can be separated with walls, or be included as part of the library space by retracting the barriers. Some classrooms can be merged into a single space, or divided by a wall of whiteboards.

Members of band and chorus will have separate spaces, designed for their acoustic needs. There’s also considerable space for instrument storage built in, as well as several practice rooms of varying sizes.

Energy won’t be nearly the expense it once was. All through the new construction, light-emitting diodes illuminate rooms and hallways. Occupancy sensors keep the lights on in active rooms, while timers are used for the halls, the walls of which are lined with ample display cases for honoring the accomplishments of these youthful learners. Then, there’s the heating: a new boiler room being brought online will eventually replace the ancient behemoth keeping the middle school inconsistently warmed. The four new boilers might fit in the space occupied by the old, yet only two of them could manage the environmental controls for the entire building. Having four provides backup security and the ability to maintain the system without disruptions.

Renovation work to other parts of the middle school still remains ahead, but completing this wing marks a significant point in the history of this building, which served as the high school when it was first built on what was then the outskirts of town.

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