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Appalachia High School's future may include addition from past

Stephen Igo • Feb 22, 2007 at 11:42 AM

APPALACHIA - A visually stunning new addition will be recommended as part of renovations to Appalachia High School, incorporating an element left out of the original design when the school was built in the late 1950s.

As proposed by Appalachian Technical Services (ATS) of Abingdon, the new addition of about 11,000 square feet would link the existing school building to the gymnasium to house a new main entrance and administrative offices, classrooms and unique student hangout spaces with an elevator providing access to five separate levels.

The proposed ATS design would do more than merely add badly needed square footage. The vista from the student commons areas alone would be worthy of architectural award consideration.

Thursday marked the final two of six public meetings held since last week to provide details of design proposals for renovations at each of Wise County's six high schools. Renovations to St. Paul High School were also discussed Thursday in St. Paul.

Wise County School Superintendent Greg Killough must have been saving ATS' proposal for Appalachia among the last of the bunch because the firm's proposed new addition - estimated to be just 10 percent to 15 percent of the entire overhaul even though it is the single most eye-riveting element - resurrects the original design for the school in 21st century style.

As with the other five high schools, all structures at AHS will get a complete makeover. The most costly renovations will be infrastructure upgrades - plumbing, electrical, ceilings, flooring and HVAC - but the proposed addition is the most jaw-dropping, and least costly, element of the plan.

ATS partner John S. Ponish was justifiably proud of a design that adds a stylish campus look to a 1950s school. But residents who questioned Ponish seemed to suggest a reluctance to embrace the concept, or even much of a makeover for the school at all. One resident even suggested eliminating the library to free up square footage in lieu of the new addition, something Ponish and Killough assured would not be favored by state education officials in Richmond.

Stung by comments brushing off the renovation proposal, AHS Principal Buzz Akridge finally told the crowd gathered in the library on Thursday that he felt "like my family is being attacked here" and defended the proposed design.

"I'm sorry, but I feel like you're attacking my baby," Akridge told naysayers.

Ponish said the proposed addition addresses any number of disabilities compliance, security, space, academic and other issues, and resolves rather nicely the thorny potential of having to build three or more elevators down to just one.

Simply finding the main entrance today is a bit of a puzzle. Finding the main office after renovations would be even more of a mystery if there wasn't a sign on the door, Ponish said. The new addition would clear that up in a big way.

Aesthetics alone would provide ample justification for the project, but Ponish, Akridge and Killough defended the proposal on needs, state codes, guidelines and laws, and the idea that something worth doing should be worth doing right.

"I think it will be great to see some positive changes for students in the future," said AHS math teacher Ashley Addison following the ATS meeting with faculty prior to the public meeting. "It's rather exciting to see what could be in the future, and something I know students will be proud of."

A special session of the Wise County School Board on Tuesday will reveal total cost projections of the major renovation projects, and likely signal the beginning of a debate on proposed construction scheduling. Architects have indicated they are leaning toward recommending phasing in the projects over a number of years, or doing one or two schools at a time. Up to two years may be required to renovate each of the six high schools.

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