The Wilson County Schools Board of Education hopes to gain some clarity this week on how it can rebuild West Wilson Middle School and Stoner Creek Elementary School, the two buildings destroyed by the March 3 tornado.
Board members reviewed preliminary plans for the replacement buildings during a work session Thursday, but concerns were raised over how those plans would be received by Travelers, the company that insured the schools.
The board has voted to solicit bids to rebuild the schools in their existing “footprints.” However, building codes and requirements have changed in the nearly five decades since the original portions of the two schools were built. In addition today’s building codes requiring wider hallways and more accessible bathrooms, there is a 2018 requirement for schools to have “safe” rooms, according to Jason Morris of Mt. Juliet’s KBJM Architects.
Morris first showed a draft of the plan for Stoner Creek, with the new building being fairly close to the existing footprint. It is about 72,000 square feet, about 2,000 square feet larger than the old structure, contains the same number of classrooms and classifies the entire wing that houses the cafeteria as a safe room. The existing gym would be used and attached to the new structure.
The draft plan for the new West Wilson building, however, differs substantially from the existing footprint, a fact Morris acknowledged. It reuses the portion of the school that was built in 2012, but eliminates the pod-like design of the original building and adds a two-story classroom wing similar to Gladeville Middle School’s. At about 140,000 square feet, it is about 10,000 square feet larger than the original West Wilson building. Overall, it has the same number of classrooms.
Several board members expressed concerns with the fact that designs significantly different from the old buildings will make negotiations with Travelers more difficult, something board attorney Mike Jennings acknowledged.
“We can’t build the same exact building and comply with building codes. We have to comply with the codes and that’s the responsibility of the insurance company,” Jennings said. “We may have to get down in the dirt with them on that.”
Board member Linda Armistead spoke in favor of the new West Wilson proposal.
“I think we need to look at a better designed, safer school,” she said. “I don’t know it would cost any more to build this that to reconstruct exactly what we had before, it was so convoluted.”
Several board members also opined that it would cost less to build to the new design rather that replicate the old design and meet new code requirements.
The prospect of further delays that may be caused if a substantially different design is proposed led the board back to coming up with a design closer to the original West Wilson footprint.
“If it’s going to throw another kink in the chain, then we might have to go back (to the old footprint),” board Chairman Larry Tomlinson said. “I think we need to bid the old footprint to new codes.”
Board member Jon White said the board really needs a definition of “footprint,” before it can settle on a design.