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Firestone/Litchfield CLC to open fall 2016

7/16/2015 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Pictured above is a courtyard area between two wings of the new Firestone High School building.
Photos: Kathleen Folkerth
WEST AKRON — The biggest construction project in Akron Public Schools’ (APS) history — the $83 million Firestone/Litchfield Community Learning Center (CLC) — is more than halfway complete and on track to open for students in fall 2016.

During a hard-hat tour of the construction site for APS Board of Education (BOE) members July 8, officials said the massive project is expected to be finished next July.

“We are 55 percent complete,” said Jason Huth, of construction management firm RPJ.

He added the project includes 336,547 square feet of new construction, while 38,000 square feet — the current Firestone Natatorium and activity gym — will be renovated over six months starting next April.

The size of the project is equal to five elementary schools, added APS Facilities Director Paul Flesher. It’s twice the size of the Buchtel CLC, which also included two attached middle and high school buildings.

Flesher said the district expects Firestone High School and Litchfield Middle School students to begin using the buildings at the start of the 2016-17 school year.

APS Superintendent David James and BOE President Lisa Mansfield were accompanied on the tour by BOE members Tim Miller, the Rev. Curtis Walker and Patrick Bravo. Being on-site at an active construction zone is not something the BOE typically gets to do, Mansfield said. The project management team extended the invitation to inform the board on the status of the project.

With work taking place both inside and out on the buildings, it’s now possible to see what the finished products will look like in a year’s time.

“We have lots of activity and the buildings are starting to take shape,” said Project Manager John Peterson, of GPD Group, who led the group through both buildings and pointed out features.

He shared information such as how nine stained glass windows from the current Firestone learning resource center (library) will be installed in both new buildings. A Don Drumm-designed screen that is currently used to separate the Firestone commons and cafeteria will also be repurposed in the new Firestone learning resource center, he said.

The project also includes new gymnasiums for both schools, with Firestone’s seating 2,200 and Litchfield’s 450. At Firestone, a concession area is outside the gym and also close to the auditorium.

A movable wall divides a large cafeteria area so the schools will be separate during lunchtime. The wall can be retracted when the schools need more space for events. The Litchfield side will include a stage area.

Like the current Firestone building, the new high school will include a planetarium, the only one in APS, according to Flesher. The new one will include seating for 52 people and will be outfitted with a new digital projector.

The new school also will include a Wall of Fame with notable graduates, as the current school does.

At FHS, several of the school’s specialty programs will have areas that were built to fit their needs. The engineering program, Project Lead the Way, will be based in a large classroom that includes an adjacent room for using machinery.

The Akron School for the Arts (ASA) will be housed in its own wing that includes four art rooms, the 712-seat auditorium and large classrooms for dance, theater and vocal and instrumental music.

Peterson said an acoustician was brought in to evaluate the performing arts spaces, which were designed so sound would be contained in the classrooms.

Both Firestone and Litchfield will include three floors of classrooms. The ASA wing will be one story with higher ceilings.

One aspect of the project that is near completion is the parking lot on the new Firestone side, off Castle Boulevard. It has been paved and will serve as the student parking area starting in January so the current high school lot can be graded as a lot for Litchfield.

Mansfield and Flesher said they aren’t sure when students and families will get to see the buildings. Once construction is completed, the district must wait for a certificate of occupancy before the schools can be opened to staff and students, Flesher said.

Both buildings will include new furnishings, but items from the old schools — computers, musical instruments, books and staff belongings — will need to be moved into the new buildings.

Since site work began in 2012, students have attended classes in the current Firestone building, but Litchfield was moved to the old Perkins Middle School site on Mull Avenue. Once both schools move into their new buildings in 2016, work will begin to prepare the old Firestone building for demolition. Athletic fields will be placed on that side of the campus.

The gym under construction at Firestone High School is shown above. It will seat 2,200.

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