Update on the New Middle School

In February of 2022, ORCSD will open the doors to its brand new middle school.

What began as a proposal in 2018, the new building for the Oyster River Middle School (ORMS) is now less than a year away from being complete. From the beginning, the ORCSD administration wanted the building to be a wealth of resources not just to its students, but to the community at large. During its development, students, faculty, and architects were brought together to create a fixture that would meet everyone’s needs. From its structure to its mechanics, everything about the new middle school will be constructed to serve the entire community.

Throughout the spring and summer, contractors worked tirelessly on the building. Especially considering that the old middle school had so many issues with facilities, heating, storage, and even air ventilation, the ORCSD didn’t want to waste any time getting started. The construction team began scoping out the area and digging for the foundation before the proposal was passed in the town election. According to Adam Downs, the head contractor working on the new middle school, they felt confident enough that the vote would swing in their favor, allowing them to begin working early. “If we had hit the ground the day after the vote had happened in March, we would have just now finished the foundation. We were lucky to get an early start.

Members of administration agreed with that sentiment. “It was really important for us to get ahead on [the construction],” said ORMS Principal, Jay Richard. “When these things drag out, that’s how issues tend to come up. We wanted to get started as quickly as possible.” 

Downs found that it was, and continues to be, one of the smoothest constructions he’s been involved with. “Ironically, COVID-19 was a huge help for us. With less traffic at the middle school, we didn’t have to troubleshoot issues like construction obstructing the bus loop, and students getting too close to the site,” said Downs. Jesse Fand, another head contractor on the middle school project, also pointed out that the drought this summer was helpful. “When you’re building something, you usually have to account for rain days, and you can’t get as much done during that time. This summer, the hardest day it rained was the day we broke ground on the property. Other than that, we had barely any issues.” 

Robert Sullivan, another contractor working on the middle school, agreed that there have been very few bumps in the process so far. “The only thing I can really think of is, when we were digging up and laying the foundation, we had to account for any pipelines that might be running under the field. At this point, though, it has been pretty standard.”

If all continues smoothly, as those affiliated with the building’s construction and design anticipate, the new middle school will open its doors in mid-February of 2022. As emphasized by Richard and Assistant Principal, Bill Sullivan, this opening will serve not only ORMS students, but the entire community. “I get the feeling a lot of people are excited about what we’re doing, and they should be,” said Richard. “The building really is made for everyone, and I think it is going to bring a lot of people together.”

Not long after the construction process first began, the ORCSD brought on its architects. Among these were Steve Laput, Ron Lamarre, and Anne Ketter. According to Lamarre, though getting the construction logistics squared away was the first priority, the design process was just as important. “We started off with a visioning process that engaged parents, students, faculty, and members of administration. When you’re building something for the community, it’s essential that you’re focused on what their goals are,” said Lamarre. 

From their feedback, the team determined four main pillars that they wanted the new middle school to represent: academics, sustainability, wellness, and safety and security. Lamarre said, “every part of the project had to be relevant to one of those pillars. Even the way the building will operate gets down to those core ideas.”

Indeed, the model for the school exemplifies them, and when the proposal passed in March of 2020 with an approval rating over 70%, the structure started going up.

 Standing four stories high, the new building is designed so that students are streamlined to get exactly where they need to be. Whereas in the old middle school, students had to walk through other grades’ hallways, the new layout will ensure that classes can get where they’re going without having to walk the length of the whole building.

Additionally, many features are being implemented to enhance the learning experience at ORMS. For the music department, the first level of the middle school houses a 900 seat auditorium that will encourage students to get involved with the arts at an early age, and act as a shared community space, just like the high school auditorium. The gym, located right across from the auditorium, also will have major improvements, the most notable being that it will be high-school regulation size.

The second floor houses the world language classrooms, where students will be pushed to expand their views not just through language, but through culture. Richard stressed the importance of this, saying “middle school is the perfect age to start learning new things, whatever they may be. It’s our responsibility to make sure our kids have the ability to receive that education.”

Floors three and four contain the fifth and sixth, and seventh and eighth grade classrooms respectively. As stated before, the class areas are built on top of one another so that students do not have to pass through the class areas of other grades in order to get to the gym, for example. This also allows students to exit the building much faster in the case of an emergency.

The last critical piece of the middle school is its sustainability. This, while not a main focus originally, became more and more important as the design team reached out to the community. According to Richard, the ORMS Sustainability Club put together a presentation for the architects on the importance of having a sustainable school. Sullivan also saw this presentation. “We definitely wanted the opinions of the kids, and that was great. They did a great presentation, and really convinced a lot of us to make some pretty big considerations.”

The main environmental goal of the new middle school is to be a net-zero carbon emission school, which means that the building would emit no carbon into the atmosphere. Through geo-thermal technology, solar panels, and emphasis placed on natural lighting, the building will be the most sustainable of all four in the district. 

For those who are curious about the building’s progress, there are a wealth of resources on the ORMS website under  “New Middle School”. From an FAQ, to an animated fly-through of the completed building, community members can find all the information they need about ORCSD’s newest edition. Any further questions can be submitted under the “What are your questions” link on the New Middle School page.

– Megan Deane

Middle School Model rendered by Bauen corperation and Lavallee Brensinger Architects