Brainstorming continues for Dowagiac school transformation project

(Submitted photo)

(Submitted photo)

While it may not be a visually spectacular sight like watching construction equipment breaking ground or tearing down old walls, work continues on the project to overhaul Dowagiac’s school facilities — work that will lay the foundation for the years ahead.

A pair of committees comprised of Dowagiac Union Schools staff, administrators and students, along with local citizens, have spent the last several months brainstorming ideas for the planned renovations to Dowagiac Union High School and Chris Taylor Alumni Field. The ideas and priorities established through these collaborative discussions will be used to formulate designs for the eventual construction phase of the project.

The brainstorming phase is the first major step of the district’s plan to overhaul the facilities of Dowagiac Union High School, Chris Taylor Alumni Field and the district’s four elementary school buildings, to enhance safety and security, infrastructure and technology and learning needs inside these structures. These updates will be paid for via the $37 million pair of bonds passed by district voters in November.

The two planning committees have met several times since the end of winter break at the beginning of the year to help establish the critical groundwork for the eventual renovations, said Union Schools Superintendent Paul Hartsig.

“We’re not rushing anything,” Hartsig said. “We’re making sure everything we do is purposeful, long lasting and meets the needs of students, teachers and the entire community. We want to do things right.”

The first of these committees, the DUHS Visoning Team, consists of 24 people — a third of whom are students currently enrolled at the high school, Hartsig said. The members, working in smaller groups of four, have spent the last several weeks developing their vision on how a redesigned Union High School would benefit students, based on how current students and staff use the facility and how other districts in the area use their buildings.

Using the ideas generated from these discussions, the design and construction firms will draft  plans for a redesigned high school, balancing the desires of the committee with monetary efficiency and building constraints, Hartsig said.

“It’s going to really, really bring our facilities up to current standards, to a good place where they will be useful for a long, long time,” Hartsig said.

The Visioning Team should wrap up their brainstorming sessions by the end of March. From there, the district will continue to gather feedback from the entire high school teaching and administrative staff to help finalize designs, Hartsig said.

The final design work is expected to be complete by summer, with the district hoping to begin construction work at the high school during the 2016-17 school year, the superintendent said.

At the same time, the 15 members of the Athletic Facility Committee, comprised of a similar mixture of school and community members, have been having similar “visioning” process for improvements to Chris Taylor Alumni Field, which will include the construction of new handicapped-accessible bleachers and concession stand as well as team rooms for players to meet and change in. The committee is also developing ideas for the new competition gym, which will be added to the high school.

Design work for this portion of the project will likely wrap up before the high school portion of the project, Hartsig said.

This fall, the district plans to assemble a brainstorming committee for the elementary buildings, forming a single group to come up with ideas for all four facilities.

Throughout the entire transformation process, which is estimated to last around 3-and-a-half years, the district will remain committed to keeping the community up to date on current progress, through newsletters and postings on social media, Hartsig said.

“The community gave us the opportunity to transform our facilities, so we want to make sure we do right by them,” he said.

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