Stevens a Work in Progress: School Year Brings New Leader, Ongoing Renovations

  • SAU 6 Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin, left, Stevens High School Principal Pat Barry, middle, and Stevens High School Building Manager Richard Plourde tour the high school Tuesday, August 19, 2014 prior to its opening Thursday, August 27. Portions of the school are prepared to be moved into while others are in the final stages of demolition.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    SAU 6 Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin, left, Stevens High School Principal Pat Barry, middle, and Stevens High School Building Manager Richard Plourde tour the high school Tuesday, August 19, 2014 prior to its opening Thursday, August 27. Portions of the school are prepared to be moved into while others are in the final stages of demolition.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • A newly furnished classroom sits ready Tuesday, August 19, 2014, for classes when school begins at Stevens High School in Claremont, N.H. Tuesday, August 19, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    A newly furnished classroom sits ready Tuesday, August 19, 2014, for classes when school begins at Stevens High School in Claremont, N.H. Tuesday, August 19, 2014.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Pat Barry, left, the incoming principal of Stevens High School holds an orientation with Assistant Principal Chris Beeso, second from left, for new Stevens faculty at the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center in Claremont, N.H. Tuesday, August 19, 2014. Mellany Harington, second from right, will teach physical science and Shane Collins, right, will teach math at Stevens. "Everything is new for everybody," said Barry. "So we're all on the same page going in."<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Pat Barry, left, the incoming principal of Stevens High School holds an orientation with Assistant Principal Chris Beeso, second from left, for new Stevens faculty at the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center in Claremont, N.H. Tuesday, August 19, 2014. Mellany Harington, second from right, will teach physical science and Shane Collins, right, will teach math at Stevens. "Everything is new for everybody," said Barry. "So we're all on the same page going in."
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • SAU 6 Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin, left, Stevens High School Principal Pat Barry, middle, and Stevens High School Building Manager Richard Plourde tour the high school Tuesday, August 19, 2014 prior to its opening Thursday, August 27. Portions of the school are prepared to be moved into while others are in the final stages of demolition.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • A newly furnished classroom sits ready Tuesday, August 19, 2014, for classes when school begins at Stevens High School in Claremont, N.H. Tuesday, August 19, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Pat Barry, left, the incoming principal of Stevens High School holds an orientation with Assistant Principal Chris Beeso, second from left, for new Stevens faculty at the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center in Claremont, N.H. Tuesday, August 19, 2014. Mellany Harington, second from right, will teach physical science and Shane Collins, right, will teach math at Stevens. "Everything is new for everybody," said Barry. "So we're all on the same page going in."<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Claremont — Though she begins her first year next week as principal of Stevens High School in the midst of a major renovation, Patricia Barry will gladly accept the short-term disruption for the long term benefit to the students and the community.

New windows that bring in more natural light, the complete rebuilding of most of the classrooms and other improvements and upgrades throughout the brick building will give students a stronger sense of pride in their school, Barry said.

“When I first came here last year, it seemed so dark and cavernous,” she said Tuesday. “Now there is so much more light and color.

“I think having an environment like this has an effect on how kids feel about their school. It is key to learning and key to morale. Teachers teach better and students learn better. They will want to come here and be here.”

Students and staff will begin the year next Wednesday, two days later than planned because of the major renovation project that began last winter and is scheduled for completion by the end of the calendar year. The additional two days of summer break is to prepare some of the classrooms for students. The delay also includes the middle school.

Barry said the project presents some challenges for everyone but she sees it as a temporary “inconvenience” and will focus from day one on building strong bonds with students.

“I want to use the opportunity (of the first day) to address Stevens students personally, face to face,” said Barry, noting that she is the first principal at the school in a long time that students have not known in any previous capacity. “I want them to see me and hear from me. I want talk about what my goals are and the challenges and what my expectations are.”

Barry also said she will touch, but not dwell, on the tragic car accident on Aug. 10 that claimed the life of Jonathan Varnum and Brandon Rock, who would have been seniors, and Brittany Bailey, who graduated in June. Selena Carrier, who is a senior this year, was injured.

“We want to acknowledge that a lot of them are dealing with this and we will help them in any way we can,” Barry said.

Though the gym is now full of furniture and more, Barry said she has been promised that it will be cleaned out and available on the first day for the roughly 560 students in grade 9 through 12. Another promise from the contractor is to work mostly after 3 p.m. on days when school is in session.

“I think it was just too traumatic last year,” said Barry, who comes to Claremont after two years as principal at Hillsboro-Deering Middle School in Hillsboro.

Although it may not look it to the untrained eye, the $12.6 million renovation project approved by voters in March 2013 is nearly 90 percent complete, the project’s superintendent, Bobby Allen with general contractor Trumbull Nelson said Tuesday during a tour of the building. Between now and the first day of school, Allen said they will put extra emphasis on cleaning and getting the classrooms ready and finishing life/safety work.

“Everybody is trying to get the last little things done to allow for cleaning,” Allen said. “We are prioritizing work in the classrooms then we can come back and work in the evening without bugging anyone.”

Though several areas areas not yet finished, including the kitchen, (food will be delivered the first few weeks) Allen said students will not have to endure what they did last year when extensive demolition work was taking place, making for more noise and dust.

“I think it will be far less disruptive than last year,” Allen said. “We pushed hard to complete phase 6 (the final phase). Demolition and abatement are done. That was the big noise last year and that is the most disruptive to the learning environment. Putting stuff back is far less disruptive.”

Financially, the project is in excellent shape, the chairman of the renovation committee said.

Dave Putnam said Tuesday afternoon they still have a minimum of $100,000 left in the contingency fund and are discussing possible expenditures, including window shades on the south side. He said the project will not exceed the bond amount approved by voters.

“We will not go over budget,” Putnam said assuredly.

Allen said Tuesday the new main entrance, which had to be extended toward Broad Street to create a wheelchair access, will be ready for students on opening day. Once inside, the main hallway will not yet be tiled or painted but that will be completed in the coming weeks.

As Barry noted, perhaps the most noticeable change students and staff will see from last spring will be the increase in natural light that streams through the new energy efficient windows and enhances the brightness of the new white walls and ceiling and refinished hardwood floors.

“It has brightened up the building immensely,” said Stevens maintenance director Rick Plourde during the tour. “It has made a big difference.”

Plourde said many of the old windows had a gray panel across the top portion, which cut the amount of natural light in half. The 256 new windows, of which about 220 will have been installed when school opens, have Fiberglass reinforced frames and argon-filled thermal panes that will reflect heat during the warmest days.

On the third floor, the final phase of the project is underway with the demolition work in four classrooms finished. Those are the only four classrooms that will not be usable when school opens. The new science labs will be almost complete and Allen said they expect to work through the Labor Day weekend to finish that area.

Allen said the project will be substantially complete by the end of the calendar year, though he anticipates a number of small items will have to be done through the winter and early spring as a final check.

Construction of the new stage in the auditorium is on hold pending changes to design for the mechanical work. Allen said students can rest assured the gym will be ready for basketball season this winter.

Another highly anticipated piece of the project, new wood pellet boilers, has been installed as the main part of the energy-saving contract with Johnson Controls. The pellet systems replaced four oil-fired boilers that were estimated to be about 100 years old.

Putnam said once the building is complete, he expects at least one open house and is confident residents will be pleased with what they see.

“I think we have taken a building that was sound structurally and gutted it and had it redone it to make it an environment for the contemporary education of the 21st century,” he said. “It is cleaner, brighter, with better heating and insulation and more secure.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.