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Mon BOE approves STEM school contract

The Renaissance Academy, a planned $72 million facility that would be devoted solely to science, technology, engineering and math pursuits for Monongalia County students, inched another notch closer to reality Tuesday night.

That was when the county board of education approved the contract for the DLR Group, the lead architect for the project.

With that part of the paperwork done, preliminary surveying work can now begin at the site near Cassville that is the projected home for the campus.

The firm, which is headquartered in Omaha, Neb., has offices worldwide, including Washington, D.C. — whose team there will undertake the local design work with the help of Williamson Shriver Architects, another Charleston firm that has done extensive work for Mon’s school district.

Williamson Shriver’s school projects here include Eastwood Elementary on the Mileground and University High’s campus on Bakers Ridge.

It’s a necessary partnership, DLR’s John Chadwick told BOE members during their regular meeting that night.

Especially, he said, since this is his firm’s first venture into the Mountain State.

“Williamson Shriver will work with ‘everything West Virginia,’” said Chadwick, an architect and former school administrator based at DLR’s offices in the nation’s capital.

“That’s everything from the School Building Authority to construction codes,” he said.

Greg Martin, a Williamson Shriver project architect who spoke at the meeting with Chadwick, said work will now begin at the planned site.

Topographical and geological surveys will now be penciled in, to determine if the property can actually sustain the STEM school — plus any additional construction that could come in the future.

Because a bond call will likely be made to fund the construction, along with a needs request to the SBA, Chadwick said the goal would be to have all that paperwork and preparation done December.

Architectural renderings and other design concepts will also be part of that initial portfolio, he said.

The goal of the advance work is to give the district plenty of time to get the bond referendum on the ballot for next May’s general election, Chadwick said.

“The longer we take, the tighter that window becomes,” Martin seconded.

Call it a window attached to a big door of possibilities, Mon Schools Superintendent Eddie Campbell Jr. said earlier.

“This will be like nothing our district has ever seen,” he told The Dominion Post previously.

With its gleaming labs and work spaces, the Renaissance Academy would enable Mon’s high schoolers to pursue career technical education opportunities and to study STEM in depth, without taking away from their core classes, he said.

DLR has already designed and constructed similar schools in Missouri, Colorado and Arizona.

The firm showcased the Colorado school during a visit with Mon’s BOE at its own expense last year, when Campbell and the board began making the initial calls for architects.

Students in carpentry and trades classes were building tiny houses for Denver’s homeless community at the time of the DLR visit to Morgantown.

Another culinary student there, in hopes of starting a restaurant with a fleet of food trucks, was also talking courses in automotive technology and entrepreneurship — all under the same roof.

The tentative plan is to have the Renaissance Academy open by 2027.

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