BELLINGHAM — Whatcom Middle School will reopen this fall, a full year earlier than expected.
Whatcom staff and families, who were attending a construction information meeting Tuesday night, Feb. 8, erupted into cheers and gave Bellingham School District Superintendent Greg Baker a standing ovation after he made the surprise announcement.
“As you can imagine, with a project this size that’s an aggressive timeline,” Baker told the crowd. “But I’m confident we can get it done.”
Whatcom Middle School was severely damaged in an early-morning fire Nov. 5, 2009, while undergoing a seismic retrofit. Since then, students and staff have been spread among other district schools.
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Dawson Construction, which has been doing work at the site since the clean-up started, will be the contractor for the remainder of the project. District and Dawson Construction officials believe the rebuilding can be complete in time for the school to open in the fall, even if unexpected problems arise.
“We’ll move forward carefully but quickly,” Baker said.
The district’s insurance is covering the cost of the rebuild, a project that was originally estimated to be complete for fall 2012.
The new building will look essentially the same as before the fire, with two stories, a daylight basement and the existing auditorium and gym. Inside, the school will have a different layout than before: The library is being moved to the center of the top floor, classrooms will be clustered for team teaching, and a student commons and cafeteria space with an exterior door is being created in the basement. The new building also will meet environmental requirements equivalent to silver LEED certification.
Over the last few months, crews have built the school’s new structurally reinforced exterior walls, removed the burned structure, and installed steel framing for the floors and roof.
The school’s main entrance, complete with columns and chiseled motto “Waste Not Thy Hour,” have remained in tact. The new school design also will utilize the original 1903 arched front door, which was covered for decades.
In coming months, crews will pour concrete floors, put up the roof, frame classrooms and install windows and major systems, includ-ing electrical, plumbing and ventilation.
Other details about the school, including staffing, will be figured out in the coming months.
Before letting people go celebrate Tuesday night, Baker reminded them that there are still several months before students will return to Whatcom.
“Remember they still have half a year to be with the new friends people made and have new experiences before coming back to Whatcom,” he said. “Tonight is a great night to be part not only of the Whatcom Middle School but Bellingham Public Schools community.”