MONROE — While COVID-19 has created huge challenges for public education, in one area there has been a small advantage — building of new facilities.

South Sevier Middle School is being replaced in phases during the next 18 months, and having students studying at home and not in school has helped. 

“It’s been a small blessing in all of this,” said Chad Lloyd, Sevier School District business administrator. “We’re about a month ahead of schedule on the gym and about two months ahead on demolition.”

The new SSMS will incorporate portions of the old building — namely the gym, which is being remodeled, and the shop building. The shop building has been gutted and will have a completely new look once the school is completed with three classrooms, a shop and a storage area. The space between the gym and the shop — currently empty — will be built in and house the school’s new mechanical room.

Other than those two areas, SSMS will be completely raised and rebuilt, shifting the building’s footprint and adding approximately 20,000 square feet. Only certain elements, such as new lockers and other equipment will be moved to the new facility.

“We are building for growth, but we’re not over-building,” Lloyd said. He said the building is designed so banks of classrooms can be extended in the future if necessary. 

The approximate $17.7 million project is the final large-scale capital project from the district’s last bond, which was passed by voters in 2013. That bond resulted in the replacement of Richfield High School, additions to North Sevier and South Sevier high schools, as well as a variety of projects throughout the district. 

“Our bond and our 10-year building plan will wrap up at the same time,” Lloyd said. “There are always things to do, but as far as large-scale projects where we have to bond, this is it for a while.”

The project is also designed to enhance school security by having one main corridor as well as a secured entry system and security cameras.

“The secured entry is something we are working on for all of our schools,” Lloyd said. He said student safety is always a primary concern when considering building design.

Once completed, the new SSMS will have everything tied into one building, no longer requiring students to go outside to go to certain classes.

The kitchen of the current school has already been taken down.

“It wasn’t a cooking kitchen, just a warm and serve site,” Lloyd said. The plan calls for students during next school year to eat lunch in the gym.

Once constructed, the new cafeteria will have the ability to double as a basketball court, which could be utilized by the community as well as the school. 

“Basketball is a big deal around here,” Lloyd said. “We hope people will be excited for that.”

The new school will also include a second story, which will house classrooms and the school’s media center.

Crews are currently leveling ground, digging an elevator shaft and preparing to start pouring footings.

“We could start seeing concrete as early as next week,” said Larry Morwood, facilities manager for the school district. He said the plan is to build a bank of classrooms through the summer and fall. 

Once the first phase is completed, students will be moved out of the building sometime around the Christmas break. If the current timeline holds, demolition of the rest of the old building could begin in January 2021, with completion of the entire project tentatively set for August 2021. 

“There is a lot that can happen in the meantime,” Morwood said. 

One of the challenging aspects will be switching the school from its current power transformer to a new one tied to the new mechanical room.

“It’s going to be tricky, but we have it planned out so that it will work,” Morwood said. 

The school’s new main entrance will face the south, with a student drop-off area located off of 100 South. 

A utility road will run along the eastern side of the school, and some of the paved area will be retained for overflow parking. The school’s track and athletic field is also getting an upgrade, as additional grass is planned to help clean up the area, Morwood said. 

“We are ready for this,” said Michelle Nielsen, principal of South Sevier Middle School.

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