Daily Memphian (January 27, 2019)
Michael Waddell

As the foundation was being poured recently for the fine arts expansion on the Bartlett High School campus, Bartlett City Schools Superintendent Dr. David A. Stephens couldn’t help but think things were going great on the school’s first expansion in 40 years.

The $60 million project got underway last summer, and one of the major challenges was to keep the campus open for classes starting in the fall while the work was in progress.

“We’re into the main part of the work that’s going to be affecting a lot of the front of the school between now and August,” Stephens said. “We’ve worked closely with the architect and the contractor planning the logistics for how we’re going to do this, with having 2,000 students on campus while we’re doing a major renovation, with the least amount of disruption.”

The sweeping renovation to the city’s namesake high school will update dining and athletic facilities, as well as the library, auditorium and security measures along with other improvements. A city property tax increase is helping fund the work.

One of the most challenging aspects of the project was planning additions and renovations on the existing, aging 26-acre campus, according to Fleming Architects project manager Michael Winter.

“Several of the buildings date back to the 1950s and ’60s, and the original auditorium (which was demolished last summer) dated back to 1917,” he said.

“The campus had not seen any new construction or major renovations in more than 40 years, so we had to decide which buildings were structurally and functionally suitable to remain as a part of the final building. The new construction will be inserted between the remaining existing buildings with surgical precision, so the campus is all under one roof when construction is complete.”

Another major focus of the plans for the redesign is to bring the school’s security up to modern-day standards. The many renovations over the years led to there being many entrances scattered around the campus.

“This new redo is going to take care of all that,” Bartlett Director of Planning and Economic Development Kim Taylor said. “When you have so many places to enter the building, it breaks down the integrity of security. Now with the rebuild, it’s going to be so much more secure for the students and the teachers.”

The vestibule will feature access-controlled doors that will lock during school hours, providing a secure entrance to the school through the administrative offices. The design of the new entry tower is intended to identify clearly the school’s main entry point while providing a dramatic focal point as motorists  drive down Shelby Street.

“With all the separate buildings united under one roof and with the administrative offices relocated around the new main entry, campus security will be greatly improved,” Winter said.

Inviting courtyard areas for the students will link the buildings. A new Dining Commons will accommodate roughly 750 students, up from the school’s current cafeteria that only holds 450 to 500 students. It will allow the school to run fewer lunch sessions.

While the existing cafeteria has low ceilings and few windows, the new cafeteria will feature 20-foot-high wood ceilings and expansive glass overlooking the campus’s new football stadium plaza. The kitchen will include new, state-of-the-art equipment, and the serving area is designed to feel closer to a collegiate Dining Commons than a traditional school lunch line.

The renovation also encompasses the school’s sports fields and surrounding stadium area. The fields will get new turf, along with possibly an eight-lane track and new bleachers on one side, and there will be a new field house and new 2,500-seat gym.

New locker rooms will be built for boys’ and girls’ basketball, volleyball, as well as football.

“Student athletes will be able to take advantage of two new training rooms, new football weight room and support spaces,” Winter said.  “The football stadium will likely receive several upgrades, but we are still exploring options.”

The new cafeteria’s large glass windows will look out over the stadium. And its old gym will be kept as a practice facility.

The new auditorium will provide seating for more than 800 students, greatly expanding capacity compared to the former auditorium. The stage size will nearly double, and higher ceilings will allow for greater flexibility during performances.

“The auditorium is intended to be multifunctional, serving the needs of the school’s fine arts department as well as the district’s teacher in-service programs and community events,” Winter said.

“The sound and lighting systems will be state-of-the-art and offer students an experience much closer to current professional environments.”

The school’s library will move from a second-floor location to the existing cafeteria space on the first floor, offering better access to the rest of the campus and several courtyards.

“With every student armed with a laptop, it was important that the library become a collaboration and work space in addition to housing traditional stacks,” Winter said.

The library will also feature several break-out and individual study spaces in addition to a video production area. Plans for the school are unique, given the integration with the existing buildings and the tight site.

“However, several of the features of the new buildings draw on our experiences working with other schools in the area like Collierville High School and Christian Brothers High School,” Winter said. “One of the most notable design trends we’re seeing is that public schools are competing with private schools, and their facilities are starting to reflect that.”

One of the school’s vocational buildings will be demolished in the spring once a new facility is built.

“It’s a major puzzle to take apart and put back together, and it has really gone well,” Stephens said. “Have there been a few inconveniences? Sure. But the kids and faculty have been fabulous about working with us.”

He cites the very rainy fall and winter seasons that have slowed the process for general contractors FlintCo and Linkous Construction, who are working on the project in a joint venture.

Bartlett aldermen approved a 35-cent property tax increase for fiscal 2018, 14 cents of which is funding school debt service. With the increase, the city’s property tax rate is $1.83 per $100 of assessed value. In addition to the city property tax increase to help fund the project, the district had put some money back in advance to help offset the tax increase.

The completed work will become available for use in phases. The school’s old offices, which have been relocated to the freshly renovated Bartlett City Schools office building nearby at 5705 Stage, are being converted into eight new classrooms that will be ready in two weeks.

The auditorium and cafeteria should be ready by the end of this year, and the remaining parts of the project are scheduled to be done by the summer of 2020.