WASHINGTON — It was a cold winter day, but construction workers were undeterred, bustling about Shepaug Valley High School in Washington in the initial stages of building a 52,000-square-foot Agriscience STEM center.

In the works for several years, the center is now coming to fruition. School and town leaders along with residents of the three towns that make up Region 12 — Washington, Bridgewater and Roxbury — view it as a brave new venture into the future for the region’s students, and also those that be welcomed from towns outside the region.

The Agriscience STEM center will include classrooms, laboratory space (food science, plant science, veterinary science, small animal and computer labs), storage areas, outbuildings, animal growing rooms, offices, meeting rooms, and indoor riding/demonstration areas.

Region 12 Superintendent Megan Bennett said the facility will serve 139 students from the region. Of the 52 students enrolled in the inaugural class in the new Agriscience program, 31 are from out of the district. There were so many applicants (75) for what had been 35 freshman “seats” that the seats were expanded to 45. There are several students who will become part of the program as sophomores.

O&G Industries’ Building Group is the construction Manager for the project, and Kaestle Boos Associates is the project architect. The project is due for completion in the winter of 2019-20.

The total area of the AgSTEM project is 52,525 net square feet, including both new construction and renovation of an existing structure. Region 12 officials had originally hoped to hold the program to the 50,298 net square feet reflected in a July 12, 2017 Schematic Design Review Checklist. However, consultants’ subsequent work in applying the latest CDOE frameworks and required safety margins for students to the design required a small increase in square footage, which is still significantly (13,955 net square feet) less than the 66,480 net square feet reflected on a 2017 “priority list,” and 3,780 net square feet less than the 56,305 net square feet reflected on a set of plans provided to state Department of Administrative Services in December of 2016.

The project was put on hold for a number of months by the state, which has been hamstrung by budget problems. However, after a resubmission of project plans to “right size” the undertaking and lessen its overall scale it was green lighted. Also part of the impetus for the center was a desire to accommodate students that could not gain acceptance into nearby Region 14’s (Nonnewaug) Agriscience program because of a limit on the total number of students in that program. Officials felt there was a defined need for a new Agriscience center in the area.

Townspeople had approved the project earlier, by a 3-to-1 margin, said Bennett. Also part of the $35 million project is a science lab renovation project, consisting of demolition and asbestos abatement on the affected areas inside the building,

The Agriscience center will also help solve an issue with declining enrollment at Region 12 schools. In education specifications submitted by region officials it was noted that the student population in grades 9 through 12 in 2005-06 was 413. Prior to the final approval of the new Agriscience center, the projected enrollment for the same grade levels was 204 for the 2019-20 school year. And that projected figure dropped further to 162 for the 2025-26 school year. The 139 students anticipated to be part of the new Agriscience program will almost double the projected enrollment figures for Shepaug High School within four years.

The project will be a state-of-the-art facility that allows students the benefits of tried and true methods of agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry and other facets of traditional “farming”, such as a greenhouse for growing plants and horse stables, but also incorporates the latest in science-based advances in those and allied fields.

“There is so much new in the field that the students will have access to,” said Kimberly Gallo, principal of Shepaug Valley High School. “They will be able to do things such as grow hydroponic plants and use a drone to analyze soil conditions in a field. We are opening up new avenues to modern education and careers, more so than we have ever able to do in the past. Bio-science today encompasses many intriguing elements to attract and challenge students.”

According to Gallo, there may be some cross-curriculum between existing high school programs and those in the Agriscience program, allowing non-Agriscience students the possibility of taking a course in that field as an elective. This will further enhance their high school educational experience and potentially open new pathways to expanded education and career choices.

This is the first project that O&G has collaborated with Region 12 on, said Tim Chan, O&G project manager.

“The schedule is ambitious. It’s 14 months of construction with the majority of work completed within a 12-month window. Nothing about the project is overly complex, but we do have a standalone greenhouse and stable building that will require specialty contractors during construction. The biggest constraint is the schedule and the amount of site work that needs to be completed during the winter months.”

Chan said the company has asbestos and PCB abatement within the project scope. Some of the abatement was completed during Phase One last summer and some will be completed this summer. “We complete that type of work when school is not in session for the safety of the students and faculty. We also removed some old underground storage tanks, but there are no major issues associated with the tank removal.”

At the peak of construction this summer O&G we will have around 80 to 100 workers on site. “We have about 20 workers on site right now as a comparison,” Chan explained. The new building will meet the Connecticut High Performance Schools standards, which is roughly the equivalent of a LEED Silver status. However, the project is not pursuing any LEED accreditation.

For more information visit www.region-12.org/ or www.ogind.com/.

Connecticut Media Group