Mansfield school board trustees unanimously agreed to spend $10.4 million to expand the interior of Ben Barber Career Tech Academy, but were divided on the exterior.
The expansion will add 44,000 square feet to the school’s current 180,964 square feet. The addition will add onto both wings of the building, which was constructed in 2005.
And it could completely change the face of the school, removing the pair of towering white arches that stretch over the entryway.
“That’s the plan on the table right now,” said Assistant Superintendent Jeff Brogden.
Some trustees said the arches make the building look dated, while others said they liked them. The proposed new facade would take off the main arches and glass-block corners at the end of each wing, and add metal panels with LED lights inserted along the top of the building.
“The panels are at different elevations across the front,” Brogden said. “It gives the building movement, not a straight elevation.”
The glass blocks on each end have to be removed so the building can be added onto, he said.
The cost to change the facade, including adding signage and landscaping, will run $1 million to $1.5 million, Brogden said. The funds for the expansion will come from $17 million left over from the $241.5 million bond passed by voters in 2006.
Ben Barber Principal Catherine Hudgins really isn’t interested in the outside of the building, she said.
“It doesn’t matter,” Hudgins said. “It just matters what’s inside and the opportunities we provide for students is what is most important.”
The proposed expansion will include a welding and metal fabricating lab, computer numeric control (CNC) shop, video production studio with sound booths, smart hospital for health sciences, pharmacy lab, three kitchens and a new Savvy's Bistro, plus leave one end of the building open for future expansion. Plans also include an additional 3,000-square-foot canopy on the north side of the school for an outdoor construction lab.
The extra room will allow Ben Barber to serve an additional 2,500 students per year, Hudgins said, on top of the 8,000 the school is currently educating each year.
Chef Adair Smith, who has been teaching culinary classes at Ben Barber for the past eight years, is thrilled about the expansion, which will add three kitchens and a new Savvy’s Bistro, the student-run restaurant that is open to the public.
“The restaurant will have an exhibition kitchen so you can see the students cooking and plating the food from the dining room,” he said, plus a patio. The current Savvy’s will be turned into a prep kitchen and there will also be a baking and pastry kitchen.
“This is going to put us on the map,” Smith said. “We’re already well known for our high school culinary program.”
The additional space, plus three more culinary teachers, will allow the program to have more students, he said. This year, 22 sections (30-35 students each) were needed, but not available due to lack of space and instructors.
Trustees’ approval of the budget for the project “puts the wheels in motion to get us finished by August 2016, regardless of what they decide on the front,” Brogden said.
No driveways or sidewalks will be changed during the expansion, Hudgins said, because the building was constructed with an eye toward expanding. One end of the building will be left as an empty shell to give the school room for future expansion, which could come in the next five years, she said, although it’s hard to predict.
Hudgins was “ready to get up and dance” when the school board agreed to the expansion, she said.
“We feel like we’re creating miracles every day,” Hudgins said. “The fact that we can reach more kids is something to be excited about.”
-- This story contains information from the News-Mirror archives.