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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Aubry's alternative for King construction ignored

Architect Gene Aubry has an alternative to the Manatee County School Board's decision to re-use an existing school design at King Middle School. He has a design he generated eight months ago at the superintendents behest that could be ready for construction in 90 days if school board officials were considering efficiency and excellence instead of mediocrity.

However, his plan apparently is gathering dust in the superintendent's office and has never been presented to the school board.

The school board recently opted to consider architectural plans from other school sites that have already been constructed to save time and money on the King school replacement, although they did not have an opportunity to consider Aubry's submission.

Aubry says it isn't that he is pursuing a bid for the new construction project for the King campus, but it bothers him to hear that the school board is buying "mediocrity." He has plenty to do, he says, but is adamant because he believes the kids lose with the current school board decision to rebuild another school's plan.

"You don't just take a building and plop it around on a site because it fits," Aubry said. "As an architect, it's not about getting the job. What is done for the kids should be the best the public can buy.

"Middle school is the most difficult time for kids anyway and they should put kids in a sensitive environment and give them a beautiful place to be everyday.

"The point is, [the school board] doesn't care what the buildings look like. All you get is lip service."

Aubry said he never intended to become involved in the proposed construction project for King. His interest has been tied to Anna Maria Elementary School's proposed construction, a project he has followed since architect Ernie Dreher was first hired to design the "master plan" for the school more than two years ago.

Aubry said when he made comments at the public meetings involving the alternative plans developed for AME by Educational Design Associates, he was told he was being antagonistic.

But he drew up a quick plan for AME anyway, one that showed a possible alternative approach, and that eventually landed him a meeting with Manatee County School District Superintendent Roger Dearing and Assistant Superintendent Bill Horton.

The purpose of the meeting was to explain his ideas for AME, but when Aubry finished talking about his plan and his credentials, he said Dearing asked if he could buy two weeks of his time to conceptualize a much needed, "urgently needed," replacement for KMS.

Aubry said there were no rules to follow, he was asked to propose what he thought was the right and best thing to do.

"With 45 years of architectural experience, when it comes to kids and education, I think I know what I'm doing when it comes to planning a quality wedding."

Aubry said he enlisted the help of colleagues from CHPA, a mechanical engineering company in the Orlando area, and structural engineers from Walter P. Moore.

Within two weeks he had developed a conceptual design for a new two-story building on the existing King campus and further, beyond his assigned task, developed a schematic plan, including details on how it could be built and the materials to be used. He also enlisted a friend at W.G. Mills to estimate the cost, which came to approximately $20.24 million.

Aubry said his colleagues were enthusiastic about the project and said they would be willing to complete the project at whatever fee the Manatee County School Board offered.

Aubry said he also met with members of King's construction team, including Principal Terry Lux and members of the School Advisory Committee to gain input before developing his conceptual design.

According to Aubry, the construction team members from King were "elated" with the design he produced. His schematic includes an indoor courtyard/atrium with plants and palm trees that serves as a cafeteria as well as a gathering place, similar to a common area at a mall where people mix and mingle.

Aubry credited King for having an outstanding music program and designed the indoor courtyard with the idea that it would be an acoustically superior venue for school concerts.

Aubry proposed using efficient design and materials to give the school a longer shelf life and save money in the long term for the public. He proposed using the same energy-efficient ice cooling system used in his design of the Selby Library in downtown Sarasota.

He also proposed using glass block walls for the building's exterior. This also is energy efficient and lowers the manpower needed to build the building, not to mention that it meets energy and wind codes.

The glass-block design provides built in shade and the energy consumption of the building is next to nothing, Aubry said.

Another design element Aubry is passionate about is good lighting. He said there are ways to provide quality lighting so that the desks can be arranged in any position without sacrificing proper lighting.

Unlike his concept, today's new schools are not flexible in their design. Aubry said schools are built in pods, which are "cute ideas, but you can't change the use of a room to reflect the changes in education. If a building doesn't adjust, you're dead in the water.

"What's going on in the construction end of schools is irresponsible," Aubry said. "They don't want to look at new ideas. I understand we have state regulations, but that doesn't stop you from being imaginative. There is more than one way to put lights in a room.

"I think it's sad that boards of education today do not strive to put kids in beautifully done buildings. Good design is not just what it looks like; you know it's significantly well designed because you can feel it.

"King will end up with the same double corridor, lights, wall materials and concrete block that lets in moisture, and 10 years from now they'll have another sick building."

Aubry unveiled his conceptual drawing to Dearing and members of the construction department last fall. Had the contract with EDA been terminated at that time, and had Aubry asked to move forward with his plan, he says, the team would be two months into construction today.

"Why should King get a second-hand school?" Aubry contemplated. "It's because everything is going to Lakewood Ranch."

After his presentation to Dearing and the construction staff, Aubry recalls being told that this is the direction they believed the district should be going.

"I thought that meant efficient buildings," said Aubry.

A complete set of design documents would require only 90 days for Aubry's team of designers and engineers. And if W.G. Mills was brought in to complete the construction contract, he said, construction could start on day 91.