School personnel ready for Gorton
How do you fit 60 people into a building designed for more than 800 students and a staff of at least 100?
The answer: you give everyone lots of space.
That’s just what’s going to happen as the school administration begins its move this week from offices on Warwick Avenue into the former Gorton Junior High School. Gorton will also serve to consolidate administrative offices from the adjacent former Greene Elementary School and the maintenance garage and operations on nearby Draper Avenue.
Space is the operative word when it comes to Gorton. The halls are wide. The classrooms were designed to accommodate upwards of 25 students and the cafeteria is large enough for a bowling alley.
“The bones are solid,” Superintendent Philip Thornton said of the school on a tour of the building that found crews putting finishing touches to changing out door locks and latches, replacement of florescent lights with energy-efficient LED lighting, installing window air condition units and wiring rooms for Internet connections and increased power. Many classrooms will become the office of a single administrator, as Thornton explains they could not be subdivided because of heating and/or fire code regulations.
Gorton was built in 1939 and reflects the art deco style that was avant-garde at the time. Reportedly, although Thornton couldn’t verify it, the property was given to the city with the express purpose that it be used for education, thereby ruling out any suggestion that it be turned back to the city and either used or sold for other purposes.
The current school administration building, on the other hand, is on property that the city can re-purpose. It includes the former elementary school that faces Warwick Avenue and has been vacant since environmental tests recommended against its use for offices some years ago. Thornton said it is his hope to give city officials a “walk-through” of the two buildings in August with the expectation of handing over the keys this fall.
While finding space isn’t an issue, Gorton has posed some challenges when it comes to being ADA (American Disabilities Act) and fire code compliant. The grand staircase in the front of the school makes it handicapped inaccessible, so the main entrance is in the back of the building with an elevator. Now that the building is going to be used for offices instead of a school, fire code regulations that didn’t apply because the structure predated them now kick in. Thornton had hoped to use the school auditorium for School Committee meetings, but the entire auditorium would require sprinklers, whereas only a portion of it is now.
“That’s frustrating,” said Thornton.
Fully sprinkling the auditorium is estimated to cost more than $200,000. Fire codes have also ruled out use of the gymnasium that has a wood roof and would also require sprinklers. Thornton had hoped local youth leagues could continue to use the facility, but that doesn’t look possible now. However, with a fireguard on premise, Thornton plans to use the gym again for the department’s Chromebook Jamboree, where the new laptop computers are distributed to students and their families.
Cell phone reception is proving to be another challenge of Gorton. Thornton said he has only one bar on his phone. He said he has been in touch with Mayor Scott Avedisian about leasing property on the site to a provider that would improve service to the entire neighborhood.
“I don’t want the income, I want the cell service,” he said.
With so many rooms, conference rooms are strategically located throughout the building. The rooms are being named after Warwick historical places and people. There will be Gorton and Aldrich conference rooms. Also the move is enabling the consolidation of equipment and materials.
The small annex building to the rear of Gorton that had been used for storage has been converted into the technical printing center previously located in Pilgrim. Administrative offices will also have a centralized printing office that will do away with printers in each office, except for situations where checks and documents are needed instantly. Printers are programmed to read used identification cards and output the desired job.
One room being left virtually untouched is the science lab with its Bunsen burners and sinks. Removing the equipment would have been a waste of funds as there is more than enough space. Thornton said the room could be used for science teacher training.
Not all the space will be used by school department personnel. The school’s library that has a separate entrance off the back of the school is being rented to the Rhode Island Society of Technology Educators. They will be using the space for offices and to conduct workshops for school administrators and teachers.
Thornton’s office is adjacent to the former entrance to the school. The space was empty except for a desk swivel chair. The blackboard against one wall was wiped clean. Thornton plans to either have them painted white or to tack up white boards.
“Next Friday [which is this Friday] I’m here and I’m not going to come back.”
The full move to Gorton is projected to be completed by the end of the month. During the transition the office of school registration will be closed from July 19 to July 25. The office will reopen at Gorton. Telephone numbers are not being affected by the move.