Unlike most Newton residents, Lisa Sharp doesn’t have to go out of her way to get a glimpse at the new Berg Middle School, she only has to look out her office windows to check on the progress.
Sharp, the principal at Berg Middle School, has had a front-row seat all school year as construction continues on the new facility set to open in March of 2019. The project, the result of a $26.9 million bond, was approved in 2016 with 66 percent of voters supporting the new school. The new building will replace an aging structure that has been plagued by issues over the years and will be the first new school building constructed by the Newton Community School District in the last 50 years. Superintendent Bob Callaghan said the move represents a huge step forward for the district.
“I think this is one of the biggest projects Newton schools have completed since the construction of the original Berg in the 1960s,” Callaghan said. “We needed a big picture vision of how to serve the students now and in the future.”
The building, designed by FRK Architects and Engineers, has been under construction since a groundbreaking ceremony held last June. The Hansen Company was awarded the construction contract, with a low bid of $27.25 million. The new building will be divided into four distinct “pods” with plenty of window light to give the building an open, airy feel.
Voters approved the bond issue, after more than a year’s worth of work by the Preserve the Pride bond committee. With nearly 2,900 votes cast, the response from voters was overwhelming. Before deciding to move forward with the bond issue, board members previously looked into renovating the school, at a cost of a minimum of $17.6 million dollars but ultimately decided a new facility represented the best option for students and teachers at the middle school.
Renovations required to make the facility compliant with the Americans with Disability Act would have added substantial costs to the facility while decreasing classroom size. The average classroom size at the existing Berg campus is 820 square feet, widening the hallways to make the building ADA compliant would have reduced that size to 630 square feet. Callaghan said most modern buildings feature classroom sizes that average 1,000 square feet.
“That was the dilemma we were stuck with,” Callaghan said.
The cost of the new facility will be more than $33 million dollars. Doug Smith, a teacher at Berg and treasurer of the bond committee, said in a 2016 interview after the bond successfully passed he was glad to see the community get behind the project.
“Thank you to this community for putting kids first,” Smith said. “Today and in the weeks and months leading up to this, the community made a huge statement about creating an environment that’s best for learning, and how to keep Newton as a place where teachers and students want to be.”
Smith said many in Newton believed it would be difficult to pass the bond issue, because the district needed multiple attempts to successfully past previous bond issues. Both Callaghan and Sheri Benson, who served on the NCSD board during that time, said there was some reluctance in the community, but Callaghan said he never wavered throughout the process.
“I think there were doubters,” Callaghan said. “I’ve believed in our mission and our vision since I started here.”
Benson attributed any reluctance to Newton’s history as a former factory town. Over the years many had expected the Maytag corporation to step in, once Maytag left, residents had to learn to support the town on their own.
“It became an expectation that when there was a problem that Maytag would take care of it,” Benson said. “We needed everybody in the community to be part of it. That’s what so exciting about the bond passing, it took more people than just the company to make this decision and carry it out.”
Without the bond, Benson said she felt community members would have no choice to but to try again. Berg has been plagued with maintenance issues for years and Benson said the “hobbling” the building along was creating a significant financial drain on the district.
“In the 50s and 60s people thought we were just always going to have things brand new, the building wasn’t built to last,” Benson said.
NCSD Board President Travis Padget said he believes bringing Callaghan into the mix made the difference in passing the bond, something Benson said she agrees with.
“The momentum came from Bob (Callaghan) looking at these buildings with fresh eyes,” Padget said. “I saw that we need it (the new Berg) but I wasn’t sure the bond issue would pass.”
The new facility will feature state of the art technology throughout, Callaghan said. VOIP, or Voice Over Internet Protocol phones, will replace standard telephones in the new middle school, eliminating the need for traditional phone lines. Each of the phones costs approximately $225 and Callaghan said the district will install one phone in every classroom.
The phone system represents only a small portion of the technology each classroom will have. Classrooms at the new Berg will be outfitted with interactive technology, including a Solstice system that will allow students to interact with their teachers on the classroom whiteboards. The equipment will allow teachers to face their students during instruction time, something teachers have been asking for, Callaghan said.
“There will be total interactivity between students and teachers,” Callaghan said. “Now they’ll have a display they’ll be able to use, they’ll be able to look at their students.”
The building will also feature a state-of-the-art security system, with 57 cameras inside the building that will monitor all of the hallways and common areas of the building. The system will mirror the system at the high school, which has 150 cameras installed throughout the building. The cameras will be accessible to officers of the Newton Police Department, who will be able to view the cameras from their squad cars in the event of an emergency.
“We really feel like we’ve provided a safe environment for the students,” Callaghan said.
The building’s high-tech interior is part of the district’s plan to meet the needs of students today, and in the future. Like Sharp, Callaghan said he checks on progress on the building regularly. Inside the entrance of the new building will be a plaque, listing all the names of the board members and administrators that were part of the process. For Callaghan, this is the first time in his career as a superintendent that he’s led a district to construct a new building. Students will likely pass by the plaque a hundred times a day without realizing the many hours board members, community members and district administrators spent working to get the bond passed, but Callaghan admitted it’ll always have a strong emotional pull for him.
“When the bond passed, my emotions runneth over,” Callaghan recalled.
Benson was also on hand for a recent tour of the site, even though she’s no longer on the board. She said she was glad to have the opportunity to see the building come together after spending so much time working on the bond process.
“It’s heartwarming to see the dream come to life, and I’m delighted to know that others will carry it along,” Benson said.
Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or firstname.lastname@example.org