Design for Lafayette High School auxiliary Gym brings smiles

Advocates for Lafayette High School are pleased with the design of the new auxiliary gym that architects from HBA Architecture Interior Design unveiled this week.

Architects are proposing a roughly 10,000-square-foot building that houses a standard-sized basketball court, 22-foot high ceilings, telescoping bleachers with capacity for 204 students, a concession stand, scoreboard and 600 square feet of storage space.

"I would say it's a victory," said Lafayette advocate Bambi Walters. "It's so hard for Lafayette to get anything. (The design) does meet Lafayette's needs, and that is a victory for the students and faculty."

The design will go before the James City County Planning Commission in November and the Board of Supervisors in December.

The reaction Tuesday stands in contrast to the Lafayette community's response to HBA's first draft, published by the Virginia Gazette in June.

Those preliminary drawings, obtained by the Gazette through a Freedom of Information Act request from Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools, depicted a gym similar to the Jamestown High School auxiliary gym.

The Jamestown gym has no bleachers, no storage space, and its four-foot sidelines do not meet recommendations published by the Virginia Department of Education in the Virginia Public School Facilities Guidelines. The VDOE recommends 6 feet of clearance on sidelines and 8 feet on the ends of basketball courts.

School officials told Lafayette advocates not to worry about the preliminary design. Lafayette Booster President Kathy Woollum said she was told the preliminary design was nothing more than "lines on a page." HBA Principal Mike Ross said those drawings were a "just kind of a what-if exercise," and he said the eventual design would be based heavily on the input of the Lafayette community.

At Tuesday night's school board meeting, Woollum said school officials had made good on their promise to listen to the Lafayette community.

"The design team process has been productive and collaborative," Woollum said. "So far so good."

The preliminary "lines on a page" have been discarded in favor of a gym Woollum said meets Lafayette's needs. It is large enough to host wrestling tournaments and can be used for physical education classes. The hoops are retractable, and the ceiling is high enough for volleyball practices and matches. A large storage closet is accessible from both inside and outside the gym. There is 10 feet of clearance between the out-of-bounds line on the ends of the court, nearly 18 feet of clearance on one sideline and 7 feet on the other. The building has both men's and women's bathrooms.

"There is nothing specific (we wanted) that we had to give up," said Woollum, who served on the design committee.

W-JCC Facilities Management Coordinator Alan Robertson said the district listened to input from Lafayette coaches, parents and administrators.

"Nothing came up at the (design) committee meeting that we said 'no' to," Robertson said.

Shifting costs

Last spring, HBA Architecture and Interior Design gave W-JCC a rough projection of $2.5 million to build the gym. When the James City County Board of Supervisors approved the project in May, the county planned to contribute $1.25 million in bond revenue, the school district would contribute $1 million and Williamsburg would pay the remainder.

In September school officials reported increasing complexities during the design process, and the district is now requesting to use an additional $357,500 toward the gym and $153,850 toward value engineering and construction management from the year-end spending plan.

The county will review the district's plan on Tuesday and Williamsburg will review the plan Thursday.

Senior Director for Operations Marcellus Snipes said the school was optimistic about being able to complete the project with the additional injection of funds from year-end funding.

Jack Hasten from HBA Architecture Interior Design said sewage lines running adjacent to the school could pose a challenge once construction begins.

Hasten said the design committee opted to place the gym 40 feet from the school with a covered walkway running from the main building to the gym in order to avoid having to move the sewage lines. A new fire lane will be built over the lines though, and Hasten said they wouldn't know yet whether they would need to move the sewage lines.

Hasten said if they did have to move the pipes, he estimated it would cost roughly $100,000.

Perceived equality

Lafayette advocates have argued that the school's athletic facilities are not equal to the two other high schools in the district. At Tuesday's school board meeting Woollum said, even with the progress on the gym, 'the inequities remain."

Several Lafayette community members spoke during a public comment period on Tuesday. All seven of the speakers made a case for capital improvements to Lafayette's facility as the board begins working on the capital improvement project process.

But arguments for equity do not always serve Lafayette advocates well.

As Board Chairman Jim Kelly pointed out, Jamestown's auxiliary gym does not have bleachers or a concession stand. And Warhill doesn't have an auxiliary gym.

Acting Superintendent Olwen Herron emailed school board members a chart this week comparing athletic facilities at the three schools. According to the document, the main difference between Lafayette and the two other high schools is that Lafayette has no baseball or softball fields. All three high schools have roughly equal space for field hockey, tennis, track, football, wrestling and athletic training.

Lisa Ownby, a Lafayette parent and candidate for the Powhatan district school board seat, said the document presents the impression of equity, but anyone who visited the three schools would see that Lafayette facilities are inferior to those at Warhill and Jamestown.

"We have one crappy gym. We need a decent auxiliary gym where we can host tournaments and sell concessions," Ownby said. "This still doesn't bring us up to par. (The Jamestown gym) is still a Taj Mahal compared to ours."

McKinnon can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

Looking ahead:

Nov. 2: Planning commission review

Jan. 2017: Board provides final design

June 2017: Award construction and construction management contract

July 2017: Construction begins

Sept. 2018: Gym ready for 2018-19 school year

About the gym:

Projected cost: $ 2.38 million (Most current estimate from district's year-end spending plan)

Size: roughly 10,000 square feet

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