The Future of Education

Rebuilding Albany High School

Keeping the community informed of progress is key to large-scale construction projects, and New York State’s Albany High School renovation serves as an example of effective communication at its finest.

Like many schools across America, Albany High School has seen thousands of students pass through its doors and experienced its fair share of wear and tear over the years. And like many schools in the state capital, the decades-old school is urgently in need of repair, remediation, and expansion.

Albany High’s rebuilding project began in the spring of 2018 and is undergoing the first two phases of a lengthy, four-phase project that involves significant renovation, transforming the school to meet current and future needs. Just as important are the many advantages the project is bringing to the local community. This includes investment in community outreach by the City School District of Albany, helping residents of color and minority- and women-owned businesses (MWBEs) with workforce development on construction-related projects including Albany High and other job sites.

The program is assisting the district in empowering local residents and MWBE contractors to participate on the project, which has a project labor agreement (PLA) with specific minimum MWBE and employment goals.

The massive renovation and expansion of Albany High will benefit students, teachers, staff and residents. The work will see changes made to the existing 378,000-square-foot school – which includes the district’s career and technical education building two blocks from the main campus – and the welcome addition of over 250,000 square feet of new facilities. The additions will include space to move all of the district’s CTE offerings onto the main campus, addressing important access and safety issues for all students. There are about 140 workers onsite during peak periods including excavators, ironworkers, roofers, truckers, and other trades, and the project continues to show what can be achieved when a community comes together.

The extremely well-coordinated project team with widely varying specialties includes Superintendent Kaweeda G. Adams, Deputy Superintendent for Business and Finance Kimberly Rohring (and her predecessor, Bill Hogan, who retired from the position at the end of June), Albany High Principal Jodi Commerford, Director of Facilities Planning Ben Marra, Director of Facilities Brian Dengler, and Director of Communications and Operations Ron Lesko. Long before the first shovel hit the ground, the group has been doing a superior job of coordinating and implementing the work while ensuring that the local community is cognizant of the project’s status.

Projects on such a large scale and timeline as this require not only the well-planned coordination of trades and building material delivery, but also consideration of all building occupants – students, faculty and staff, and visitors – and their safety. To facilitate ongoing classroom requirements, it was deemed that ‘swing space’ facilities used to relocate students during earlier 2003 to 2010 projects at the district’s elementary and middle schools would not work, and alternative arrangements had to be made to mitigate the impact of construction on instruction and daily campus operations.

As with any construction site, noise and dust are a part of the process, but everything is being done to minimize disruption. This includes restricting arrival and departure times for construction crews during school hours, scheduling deliveries outside of school arrival and dismissal times, ensuring the safe removal of hazardous materials under strict regulations, third-party monitoring, and more.

Families were kept apprised of important abatement works, including lead, asbestos, and mercury from the school’s rubber gym. All work complied with state and federal regulations, with safety first, and all areas affected by asbestos or lead were properly sealed or tented, with signs, a ventilation system, and independent third-party monitoring on the work site.

As the original school was completed in the early 1970s, construction crews have uncovered a number of surprises during the demolition process. Deteriorated steel was one issue that needed to be addressed.

The district and its community partners have held regular meetings and public presentations to the board of education in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 along with regular meetings with Albany High’s improvement team. Biannual community updates also have been held since August 2018, with the two most recent updates held in late August prior to the start of the current school year to update students, families and community members about the rebuilding project. These updates also included information regarding workforce development and MWBE involvement in the school project and the construction industry in general.

The Albany High project is scheduled for completion by 2025 and will feature four phases. The first was a 120,000-square-foot, three-story classroom addition that will open in January 2020. The second phase is the addition of a two-story classroom building with spaces for art and music classroom. The third phase will result in a new main entry, media center, partial renovations of the existing classroom building, and renovations to the auditorium, gymnasium and athletics facilities. The fourth phase will see a courtyard infill and full classroom building renovation that will include creating the space for Albany High’s CTE programs. The total budget is $179.9 million.

Set to open in the late fall of 2020, the art and music classroom addition will have 39,000 square feet over two floors. This will “continue the transformation of Albany High School into New York’s most advanced – and, in my opinion – most spectacular high school,” Superintendent Kaweeda G. Adams said at the groundbreaking celebration in June.

Across New York State, communities are growing, and education is changing. Albany High will feature many unique technologies for today’s learning environment with six art classrooms – three for studio art, two for three-dimensional art, and one for two-dimensional (2D) art – with ceiling-suspended electric power reels in all art classrooms, a paint spray booth in the 2D art classroom, expansive glazing to bring in daylight, and more.

Not to be outdone, the school’s six music classrooms will include three large rehearsal classrooms to accommodate orchestra, chorus, and band, as well as an ensemble practice room, a musical industry digital interface (MIDI) computer laboratory, a recording studio with booth, and recording and playback systems complete with microphones and speakers in every rehearsal room.

The project represents a significant investment of time, money, and manpower but is about more than creating a beautiful and modern education complex; it is about the next generation. The significant renovation and addition is, appropriately, ‘Investing in our students. Investing in our community. Investing in our future,’ as the district has labeled the project.

“We know that investment is not just about the bricks and mortar of new facilities,” says Adams. “It is about the future of our children and the future of our community. It is about the commitment that we have made to one another to do what it takes to give our young people the very best that we can afford. It is about sending that clear and unmistakable message that we believe in you.”

Building the Next Generation

As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.

November 22, 2019, 7:29 AM EST