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Out of sight construction:Work progresses at Morris Area Schools

Carpet, seats and other items have been removed from the Morris Area High School theater. Photo submitted1 / 4
Construction is progressing on the new fitness classroom addition at Morris Area Schools. Photo submitted2 / 4
Unusable equipment in a science room was removed by contractors. Photo submitted3 / 4
Floors have been removed in sections of the Morris Area High School that are under construction. Photo submitted4 / 4

Just because the work is not easily seen doesn't mean it's not happening.

Just ask the students who play winter sports at Morris Area High School. Team members have had to adjust to different locker room showers and changing areas this season as construction workers are tearing apart and rebuilding the girls and boys locker rooms in the high school.

The locker room construction is part of a voter approved a $19.2 million construction project in the schools.

"We had to make accommodations this winter in order to get the project done this summer," superintendent Rick Lahn said of doing the locker room work during the school year.

"We had to make a choice," said school board member and building committee member Doug Stahman said of locker room construction. "Rick and the staff worked out the issues," he said.

"It's the only way we would accomplish this on schedule," construction manager Josh Schwinghammer of Bradbury Stamm said of working in the locker rooms during the school year.

"In the locker rooms, all the existing walls had to be torn down and we had to cut the floor slabs up," Schwinghammer said.

A plumber will be installing new water pipes and locker room fixtures. Other subcontractors will replace the wall and floor slab. The poor quality of Morris's water supply severely damaged the locker room walls, floor, water pipes and fixtures until the locker room showers were not able to be used, school officials have said.

Adjusting to a different locker area isn't the only change needed for the school year.

The high school's fall theater production was moved to the school's concert hall from the main auditorium because of extensive work in the theater.

Construction crews have torn down the interior and are rebuilding it.

"The theater is coming along," Stahman said. "It looks good. All the walls have been painted. The stage will come in some time this spring."

The contractors try to work within the school district's schedule which may mean some subcontractors are working at night and in the early morning.

"If we have extensive work, where there is more noise and it's dirtier, we will (try) do that after school hours," Schwinghammer said.

"We just got off a double shift where a crew starts at 4 in the afternoon and goes until 2 or 3 in the morning," Schwinghammer said.

The safety of students, staff and contractors is a high priority, Schwinghammer said. To keep people safe, contractors have sealed off sections of the school, built temporary walls, used barricades and built temporary doors, Schwinghammer said.

The building committee meets regularly with Schwinghammer and representatives of the project's engineering and architectural firm. Stahman said a safety discussion is always part of those meetings.

While work has gone on into the night and early morning, it also continued when students were on Christmas break.

Contractors removed asbestos from the science areas during Christmas break, Stahman said. The work in the science areas will require another adjustment from staff as teachers won't have water in those rooms, Stahman said.

Schwinghammer has been impressed with how the staff and administration has adjusted and communicated during construction.

"I don't think I've worked with staff that has been as positive as this one has," Schwinghammer said.

Communication between himself and district officials is very important, Schwinghammer said. District officials have communicated well which includes presenting a clear plan for construction and with any ideas, feedback and questions during construction, he said.

While the interior construction work can't be seen from the outside, Stahman said some days it's easy to forget construction is happening inside. "You wouldn't know it's happening," Stahman said. Especially with plumbing work because so much of it is done in crawl spaces under the school's floors, he said.

Schwinghammer said it's "absolutely" fine if people don't know contractors are working. That means the progress is not interfering with school, he said.