$7M school renovation starts at Harlan Ind.

During a Harlan Independent Board of Education meeting on Sept. 19, 2019, a schematic design for all three schools’ renovations was discussed. Now, in 2021, the $7 million project is finally underway.

In compliance with Senate Bill 1, the schools are set to receive fresh paint and tiling, plumbing fixtures, door and window updates, roof repairs, canopy additions, a cafeteria expansion with an outside patio and more.

Kevin Cheek, principal educational facility planner for Sherman Carter Barnhart Architects, was present at the 2019 meeting to discuss the designs for the various projects taking place. Cheek also answered questions about the projects and school budget.

Starting two years ago with Harlan Elementary School, the school system spent $2 million in construction money to renovate the building, including lighting, new ceilings, fresh paint, new HVAC, new wiring/networking and more.

“That was kind of Phase I. The original plan was to build an on-site cafeteria for the middle and high schools,” said Superintendent C.D. Morton. “At that time, we didn’t have enough money to do it and it didn’t make a lot of sense in retrospect because we don’t necessarily need another building to upkeep and manage.”

It was decided to renovate the elementary school, and include in Phase II the expansion of the existing cafeteria and all new floors and windows. The auditorium will also have a face lift.

“We will remodel the existing cafeteria and go out into the schoolyard. Basically, redo the whole right side of the elementary school. We’re also going to add canopies, which will be the most visible change people will see,” he said.

Morton said the outside wall at the front of the cafeteria will essentially be knocked out to extend the building forward, adding a small courtyard and patio area where people can socialize.

“Being a school that is downtown with multiple entrances, we felt like we needed a way to pull people into particular places,” he said. “Along Central Street, we’ve added these canopies at the main entrance points to tie them all together, but also provide some protection for our kids and families. This also helps give a visual as to where our entrances are.”

Morton said for 92 percent of the school year, weather is not a problem for students in the middle and high schools to walk over to the cafeteria for lunch. For the 8 percent of the days with bad weather, however, it becomes a hassle for those walking through it.

“We’re going to build this really big canopy that’s going to extend across Williams Street from the elementary school to the high school, and we’re going to add an exit at the end of the high school where the hallway ends so the kids can be under cover all the way over,” he said. “It won’t be enclosed or temperature, it will simply be a canopy to provide some protection from the rain and snow during their shorter walk over to the building.”

The canopy offers a safer traveling point, as drivers will be able to easily see the structure and will know to slow down more for the school zone. It’s height also meets state codes for trucks to be able to travel under the canopy.

Morton said the road will stay open, noting some individuals thought about adding gates to better control traffic, but it was important to him to be able to keep traffic flowing, especially for families who live on Central Street.

“As you come across to the high school, this building is getting a complete renovation. It will have all new floors, windows, heating and air, new bathrooms. We’re going to change the windows in the gym and add heating and cooling in there, which has not had a cooling system,” Morton said. “The middle school is getting new ceiling tiles, improvement on their heating and cooling and new lighting.”

Morton said the $7 million project will not cost the school or the community anymore money because it has already been bonded and the project came in under budget, adding it is probably the single-largest construction investment in the history of the school district.

With an 18-to-24 month construction period, Morton said it will be a tough journey, but one that is worth it for future generations attending Harlan Independent.