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Litchfield makes way for new community learning center

1/31/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Becky Tompkins

All that remains of Litchfield Middle School is some equipment and debris behind a chain-link fence.
Photo: Becky Tompkins
WEST AKRON — Much has been done since the last meeting to update the community on the progress of the Akron Public School District’s (APS) future Firestone-Litchfield Community Learning Center (CLC).

The most obvious change is Litchfield Middle School is gone, following asbestos abatement and demolition in the fall. The Litchfield students are currently attending school at the former Perkins Middle School building.

At an update meeting Jan. 24 with APS officials and architects working on the project, John Peterson, an architect with GDP Group and project manager, said the next step for the Litchfield area is to finish the site preparation in the spring.

Work will begin on drilling a geothermal well field in the school’s parking lot area, he said. More than 100 wells will be drilled 500 feet in the ground to tap into the Earth’s natural geothermal energy, to be used for heating and cooling.

“The building will be fully geothermal,” Peterson said, adding the system is more economical than the gas-fired boilers that are being used now.

The next step is to submit the required schematic design for the new building to the Ohio School Facilities Commission, the state organization that is providing 59 percent of the funding for the rebuilding or renovating of Akron’s school buildings; and the Joint Board of Review, the group of APS and city of Akron officials overseeing the building program.

The new CLC for sixth through 12th grades will encompass about 381,000 square feet, said Peterson, slightly larger than the combined space of Litchfield and Firestone High School. It is being planned to accommodate 640 middle school and 1,400 high school students, including career tech students, he said. There will be separate entrances on opposite sides of the building for the sixth- through eighth-graders and for the ninth- through 12th-graders.

The architects have been working on refinements to the building’s spaces, following 90-some meetings with school staff, curriculum specialists and administrators to validate program needs, he said. They are further developing site and floor plans in response to the staff input.

At the meeting at Firestone, the officials exhibited renderings of the proposed entrances to the two sides of the building, along with room layouts of the three-story building. But “we’re still tweaking things,” Peterson said.

Both facades feature glass areas along with stone sections and red brick on the classroom wings. There is a three-story glass lobby/atrium inside the Firestone-side entrance. The office will be to the right of the front doors, and for security, visitors will need to be buzzed in, Peterson said, to pass through both of the entrances.

In keeping with Firestone’s being a visual and performing arts school, Peterson said they were working for a more contemporary design. The new media center/learning resource center is planned to the left of the entrance and will feature a large triangular skylight on the outside, reminiscent of the triangles and glass at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, he said.

All classrooms will have natural light, along with the skylights in the atrium and courtyards, so “there will be a lot of glass, a lot of light [coming] in,” according to Peterson.

The new auditorium, or “theater,” off the lobby will seat 700 — 500 on the floor and 100 each in two balconies. This is less seating than the current auditorium’s 782 seats but will create a “more intimate” atmosphere with the balconies, Peterson said.

Classrooms for the art, music, dance and theater classes will be located behind and next to the auditorium in the current plan.

The gymnasium will be at the end of the large lobby in the center of the building and will feature seating on the main floor and in the “upper bowl,” as it is now, Peterson said. It will seat 2,700, the same as now, he said, to accommodate large citywide events.

The natatorium and its locker rooms will be renovated, he said.

During a question-and-answer period, several neighbors expressed concern about traffic. The entrance to the Firestone side will be via a one-way drive entered at the juncture of Castle Boulevard and Fairfax Road. It will exit onto Castle across from Winhurst Drive.

Peterson said they are working with the city of Akron Traffic Engineering Department and there might be a four-way stop at Winhurst.

Parking might be a concern for large events, such as the Dies Memorial Wrestling Tournament, Peterson acknowledged, but there will be about 500 parking spaces around the new building compared to the present lot’s 429 spaces.

One attendee questioned why they were going to build the new structure on the lower end of the sloped property, where the ground is often muddy, instead of up on the higher end along Rampart Avenue.

Peterson replied officials had a geotechnical report and soil samples done on the whole site before the project was started, which reported there was not a ground water problem and the soils were suitable.

Two other visitors complained that in the renderings, the building looked “like a corporate research center” or Summa Hospital. They questioned whether it would be cost-prohibitive to “add some pizzazz” to the building.

Paul Flesher, APS director of facility planning and capital improvements, said the building would actually have more character than shows up on the general artist’s renderings.

Firestone students will stay in the current high school during the construction, which should begin when this school year ends, Peterson said. They expect the construction to take two years, to be completed around October 2015.

He said they project moving the high school students into the new building in January 2016, with the Litchfield students returning in fall 2016.

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