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Augusta Evans Opens Doors for Disabled Students

After more than a year of construction, special needs students in Mobile County, Ala., will soon be heading to a new school.

Wed August 20, 2014 - Southeast Edition
Cindy Riley

After more than a year of construction, special needs students in Mobile County, Ala., will soon be heading to a new school. In August, Augusta Evans School officially re-opens its doors, at a location in west Mobile that will better serve each child. The special needs school is reportedly the only one of its kind in the area.

“The decision to build a new school was based on our needs assessment,” said Tommy Sheffield, facilities manager at Mobile County Public School System. “Being one of the older schools in the district, Augusta Evans was in bad shape. It serves the handicapped, but the old location was never designed to be a special needs facility.”

Augusta Evans, which serves special-education students from pre-kindergarten through age 21, was formerly located on Florida Street in Midtown between Old Shell Road and Spring Hill Avenue. A groundbreaking on the new school’s campus at the now demolished Hillsdale Middle School took place in November 2012. The $12.5 million project was set for completion by fall 2013, but construction delays forced the work to stretch into 2014.

The new facility on Cody Road is more than 80,000 sq. ft. (7,432 sq m), and features a donated, state-of-the-art playground and two greenhouses. It also includes a custom-built shelter that can withstand an F4 tornado. The shelter is designed to house all the children and staff at one time in one area.

In June, staff members began the move from the old location. Classrooms have been boxed up in hopes of a smooth transition when students return from summer vacation. Sheffield said the new school can better accommodate children with severe, and in some cases, extreme disabilities.

Construction crews made certain the school’s features comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, including lighting that turns on through motion-detecting sensors.

“The sliding glass doors automatically open,” said Sheffield. “The halls are a lot wider, to give the children enough room to change classes and walk up and down without being cramped, whether they’re in a wheelchair, a motorized wheelchair or a walker. Each classroom has customized sinks, and there are restrooms built-in, so an aide or teacher doesn’t have to take the student down the hall.”

The structure is one level with an attached multipurpose building that includes a gym, cafeteria, kitchen and library. Two very large greenhouses also were constructed on site, using an aluminum frame with two layers of polyethylene cover. Each was installed over a combination of stone and concrete floor. The greenhouses are designed to be adapted to a specific site, so that foundation can be put in, along with proper erection.

“We met with our Special Education team, and Dr. Shelia Martin was instrumental in helping us visualize the future,” Sheffield said. “There aren’t any schools I’m aware of in the state in public facilities to serve special needs. Mobile County already has a school set up for the deaf and blind. Augusta Evans is another step in raising the bar.”

Sheffield said building an entirely new school at a new location is more cost-effective and will last for decades to come. The new location also will help students’ transition with their disabilities.

“You wouldn’t believe the waiting list we have for these programs. Enrollment at the old school was around 250, because that’s all they could physically manage at that location. The new building can serve up to 500.

“The new school also has a special bead room set up,” said Sheffield. “Augusta Evans is one of the largest bead distributors in Mobile County for Mardi Gras. Beads are donated to the school, which are then cleaned and recycled to earn money. It also provides a skill for the children, as far as counting, sorting and bagging them.”

The Rotary Club of Mobile adopted Augusta Evans and raised about $250,000 to install an ADA-approved, fully accessible playground. The flooring consists of four inches of foam rubber, so walking on a spongy pad makes it safe if students fall while playing on the many specially designed pieces of equipment.

Don Gordon Construction Inc. of Daphne, Ala., served as the general contractor on the project.

“The biggest challenge on this project was the tornado shelter wing of the school that’s designed to withstand winds of 200 mph,” said Jerry Gordon, project manager. “It required substantial concrete footings, 12-inch concrete block walls reinforced with steel and poured solid with concrete, and a 10-inch reinforced concrete roof deck.”

Beyond the equipment used by the site contractor, crews used a hydraulic crane for setting roof trusses, reach forklifts for masonry and plywood decking of the roof, man lifts for high trim work and scissor lifts inside the building for running HVAC duct work, running acoustical ceiling and setting elevated light fixtures.

Gordon said masonry work was highly demanding.

“There was a considerable amount of different masonry elements including arches, cast stone and high walls,” said Gordon. “This required a lot of time and detail.”

Steven Walker, project manager of Superior Masonry Inc. discussed challenges on the project.

“The entire front of the building was the most challenging. The saw-tooth brick cornice, the arches along with the cast stone and the five-foot barrel arch at the main entrance required very skilled masons. The high walls in the gymnasium were the most time consuming part of the project.”

Concrete block totaling 110,000 units were needed, along with 250,000 bricks, 5,000 sacks of mortar, 650 cu. yds. (496 cu m) of concrete, 100,000 linear ft. (30,480 m) of horizontal reinforcing and 35,000 sq. ft. (3,251 sq m) of insulation.

“We used EZ crank-up scaffolding and conventional scaffolding,” Waller said. “We also used a JCB and JLG 6K forklift, and a Mayco concrete pump.”

Materials used during construction included 3,500 cu. yds. (2,675.9 cu m) of concrete in building slabs and sidewalks, wood trusses, 300 tons (272 t) of wall and slab steel reinforcement and a total of 1,000 squares of roofing shingles.

About 54,000 cu. yds. (41,285.9) of dirt was moved on the project.

“A lot of existing dirt was stripped and stored on site for reuse, if possible,” said Gordon. “The rest was hauled offsite. We laid 6,000 square yards of new asphalt on stone base. We ran 3,500 linear feet of concrete curb and gutter and roughly 3,500 linear feet of new storm drain HDPE pipe.”

All restrooms are ADA compliant, and all showers include bench seats and easy to reach shower controls. The majority of the school’s handicap-accessible features didn’t create a challenge for crews, because they’ve been installed at numerous schools that incorporate the same features.

“The only ADA feature that was a challenge was the use of showers for every two classrooms and bathrooms in every classroom,” said Don Gordon, president of Don Gordon Construction Inc. “This was due to the school being a special needs school.

“It was a pleasure working with the architect and the school system facilities division. The project ran smoothly, due to their efforts.”

Nick Holmes, Jr., partner of Holmes and Holmes Architecture of Mobile, welcomed the chance to be involved with the new school.

“After we were contacted, we went out to the facility to tour it,” Holmes said. “The staff was keeping the building in beautiful condition, but under difficult circumstances. We were enthusiastic about being selected to do the work. The whole emphasis was to create a facility that serves the needs of disabled children and was also friendly to the custodial and teaching staff.

“At first, we wanted to keep the new building close to the existing school, but there wasn’t enough property to hold it. For that reason, we placed it where an earlier school had been destroyed.”

Holmes said the tornado shelter was particularly challenging for his team.

“This was a new concept for us, designing a wing that was tornado resistant. We used all the info we could find, and talked to the State Building Commission. We worked with structural engineers to meet the criteria that’s been set forth. The wing is built almost like a bunker. There are heavy concrete walls and ceilings underneath the regular shingle roof. There’s a 12-inch thick concrete roof to protect the students.

“The playground was a specialized project,” said Holmes. “We were not directly involved in that, but we adapted the site to the playground, and made changes to the grade and the drainage system and helped in the placement.”

As for the finished project, Holmes is extremely pleased with the outcome.

“I think it’s a handsome building. We are very proud to have been associated with this project. I think it will serve students well for a long time.”

Augusta Evans School was established to provide a quality education to special needs students. The faculty, staff and parents work to make certain each individual student receives an education of the highest quality, and is given the skills necessary to become a productive citizen and develop to his or her full potential.

“It’s an exciting time for Augusta Evans students and their parents,” said Sheffield. “To see the looks on their faces when they arrive at the new school for the first time is going to be incredibly rewarding.”

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