By Frank Mustac, Special Writer
Details of proposed construction called an Arts and Wellness Space at Hopewell Valley Central High School were described recently.
Superintendent Thomas Smith said the 10,500-square-foot addition estimated to cost about $5.2 million would be paid for as part of a proposed $36 million facilities bond to fund repair work and construction at several school district buildings.
A referendum date in September is eyed for a vote by residents in Hopewell Township and Pennington and Hopewell boroughs.
The major components of the Arts and Wellness Space are a black box theater for students enrolled in performing arts courses, and a new gymnasium primarily for physical education classes.
A black box theater — a stage without wings, scenery or curtains with seating on three sides — would provide “a permanent teaching space for our theater arts program. We currently do not have one now,” Dr. Smith said during a presentation at a school board meeting earlier in January.
“The teaching space could also be used for dance rehearsals, recitals and public speaking and debates for our other classes,” said the superintendent, who also described what he said were “significant scheduling issues with the space currently used by the theater arts program for rehearsals and other activities.”
“New teaching areas for those students is what we are recommending,” he said.
Peter Griffin, supervisor for K-12 visual and performing arts at Hopewell Valley schools, also spoke before the Board of Education at the same meeting.
“We have more than 130 students in our high school theater program and we don’t have a home for them,” Mr. Griffith said.
“The students, on every given day, are always getting kicked out of the Performing Arts Center,” he said, explaining that theater classes sometimes do not even have access to the orchestra pit area at the center to conduct rehearsals.
“Sometimes they are having classes in the hallway, literally,” Mr. Griffith said. “It disrupts the flow of instruction quite a bit.”
Superintendent Smith also described the new gym proposed for the Wellness Space, which would provide “space for the increased offerings of our physical education classes during the year.”
Currently, he said, there are often 60 or more students in a typical physical education (PE) class “which might not seem like a lot in a gymnasium, however, when they are in grades nine through 12, there is significant difference in size and behaviors.”
“Even though they have a number of teachers watching over them, there is an increased possibility of injury … where you are struggling for space,” Dr. Smith said. “Our adaptive PE classes currently take place in less-than-optimal spaces.”
A wellness space, he said, would also help address some hygiene concerns involving the storage of cushioned mats used for the sport of wrestling.
With the new construction, wrestling mats could be moved out of the auxiliary cafeteria where they are currently stored and into a designated area in the Arts and Wellness Space.
The design of the project also provides access to bathrooms during sporting events, while keeping participants and spectators from gaining access to the rest of the high school building, Dr. Smith said.
Other alternative were investigated for a Arts and Wellness Space instead of constructing an addition to the school, including erecting prefabricated structures outside the current building or converting existing space within the building.
Both options were considered unfeasible, the superintendent said.
“It made two sub-par spaces rather than a dedicated space for each program,” he said, describing the option using existing space. “That really didn’t benefit anybody.”
By Frank Mustac, Special Writer