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FRANKLIN - Architects at Plunkett Raysich Architects are working with middle school teachers and administrators to develop the perfect design for the new Forest Park Middle School building.

The new building, which passed in a referendum last November, was proposed to add necessary extra space to add sixth grade to the school and accommodate the current population, as well as add extra space for things like sports and science.

Now that the design phase is underway, both the school and board of education are looking for a design that fills these needs and more.

"They're starting to put some design concepts together – that just started (the week of Jan. 9)," said Superintendent Steve Patz. "(Eventually) they will come up with some design concepts and see if we like certain things."

Fitting in

Conceptually, lead designer Devin Kack interpreted the school staff to be looking for "a building that would be contemporary, but not trendy; simple and inviting; clean and organized; structured, but not organic; and one that provides vision of educational spaces and also views from them, so thinking about (things like) natural daylight."

In terms of style, the school and board are also looking for something that fulfills the needs of the school, fits in with other buildings in the city like the library and law enforcement center, and fits in with the residential neighborhood.

"It's going to fit in very nicely with the neighborhood," said Patz. "We want to be very conscious that we have something that will be aesthetically pleasing."

The board gave input on various designs at their Jan. 11 meeting, in which representatives from Plunkett Raysich showed them a variety of building designs just to get their feedback and see what styles seemed to best fit the district's vision. The representatives have also done similar exercises with the teachers and administration at Forest Park, and have already held three rounds of discussions with administrators, teachers, and department heads.

Learning space

Throughout the process, the staff at Forest Park will give a great deal of input, especially for the classroom spaces.

One major thing that Patz noted that they are planning to have in the new building is large amounts of "flexible learning spaces."

"We want a lot of collaborative spaces where kids can work in small group settings," said Patz. "Space that is collaborative and flexible ... were some of the words we used when designing the high school, and we're going to replicate some of that – though not all, of course, because it is a completely different building."

Patz also mentioned that school officials are looking to build space that will assist in building an excellent technical education department — for classes in topics like metals or robotics — that will transfer well to the technical education department at the high school.

"We want to make sure the middle school experience is a catalyst for the one at the high school," explained Patz. "We want that program to be pretty dynamic."

He also stressed they want to make sure the building is secure and that it creates easy entry points for the community to access spaces like the gym and common areas.

Down the road

Though there is no specific timeline set for all the steps in the process, the district is aiming for a groundbreaking ceremony sometime this spring. Until then, the architects will work on large-scale plans, such as the overall design concept and how best to fit the building in the space provided.

While no due dates are set in stone, Patz says officials are working toward finishing construction on the new building around December 2018 or January 2019.

Around the turn of the semester, the current seventh- and eighth-graders will move to the new building, and demolition of the old building will begin. Sixth-graders will not move up to the building until fall 2019, meaning that this year's third-graders will be the first sixth-grade class in the new building.

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