Gym plan 'a whole new world'?

Architects came Thursday to show designs for a new and/or improved gymnasium complex at Ashland High School. The complex houses the athletic program, drama and music programs.

Prior to the passage of a school improvement bond last fall, the school district hired professionals to scrutinize all school buildings. They came up with about $95 million worth of improvements. A committee got to work in the summer of 2005 and whittled that down to $46.8 million of priority work, which included the gym complex. The bond measure passed, bringing the project to this point, where two options for the gym are under consideredation.

The first design option, dubbed "Whole New World," involves the demolition of the gym complex and rebuilding from scratch. A reconstructed gym complex will retain popular features such as the end-zone and balcony bleachers.

One advantage of this option is that architects found a few more feet which they can use to get two full basketball courts out of the existing gym area.

The second advantage, according to the architects presentation, is that the three music rooms on the upper level will not only be adjacent to one another, but will also directly connect to the theater, making it easier for music students to transport instruments into the theater.

The architects provided a second option, referred to as "tre parte," which would remodel the complex that retains the existing three-level structure. Both options involve utilizing space more efficiently and making rearrangements to better accommodate the multiple uses of the building, such as adding a scene shop room next to the theater. As it is, drama students build their sets on the stage, limiting its rehearsal availability.

In recent weeks, the Ashland Historical Commission has raised the idea of remodeling school buildings rather than rebuilding them to preserve their historical value.

Architect Jim Conley, of the Portland-based DLR Group architectural firm, said both versions follow the requirements of the bond down to the dollar, and that one version is not necessarily cheaper than the other. However, he did say after the meeting that with the tre parte option &

even after getting everything up to current building standards &

will still require more maintenance simply because of the age of the building.

The school improvement bond allocated $19.8 million to Ashland High School, which includes providing for a new heating and ventilation system, new flooring, a new electrical system in the English building, safety and security upgrades, and the ability to meet ADA standards. Of that, $7.3 million is going to the gym project.

A final choice has not yet been made, but design committee members appear to prefer the "Whole New World" option. School board chair Heidi Parker said that is because of the possibility of having two full basketball courts, the rearrangement of the music rooms and because the locker rooms on the lower level will also get a major revamping. She said it is pretty dark and damp "downstairs in the catacombs." She also said that even with the best-laid plans, there's always the possibility of major surprises with remodeling projects.

Few people attended Thursday's meeting and the architects and committee members are still hoping to get more input about the design. During the meeting, a retired P.E. teacher commented that with two full-size basketball courts, the architects should plan on a retractable door between the two courts to minimize confusion between the two. Architects said that is just the type of detail they still want to hear from the public.

Di Chiro said district officials hope to have the ground breaking next February or March.

"We're moving quickly through this process, but thoroughly," she said, adding that a quick pace is essential because construction costs are escalating by about — percent each month in the Rogue Valley area.

Before design architects got into the nuts and bolts of explaining their two options, superintendent Juli Di Chiro addressed a fequently asked question, namely how come the district is spending money on facilities when classes are being cut. The answer, Di Chiro sais, is that the voter-approved bond must go specifically toward building improvements.

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