By LANDON WOODROOF
A site plan for the science, technology, engineering and mathematics building to be constructed at the Brentwood Middle School and High School campus gained the approval of Brentwood’s Planning Commission Tuesday night, despite the misgivings of some commissioners about the proposed appearance of the building.
The 64,167 square foot STEM building will feature 35 new classrooms and will increase the capacity of Brentwood High School. It will grow from 1,628 students to 2,000 students. Some Brentwood Middle School students taking advanced placement courses will also make use of the building.
The construction of the building represents Phase III of Williamson County Schools’s expansion projects for the BMS and BHS campus. Phase I was the replacement of the dirt football field surface with artificial turf. Phase II calls for the construction of a 292-space parking lot behind BHS as well as a new access road connecting that lot to Granny White Pike.
The City of Brentwood recently decided to donate $2.4 million to the school district to get this project moving.
A screen projected a plan for the new building during the commission meeting. Planning Commissioner Jack Fletcher drew attention to something he did not particularly like about the proposed STEM building: its looks.
Fletcher said he considered the aesthetics of the new building to be important, and that he did not want it to be “institutional or commercial looking.”
“I want it to be a campus,” he said. “This is probably the only time this board or anybody is gonna have the ability to say anything about that.”
Other commissioners agreed.
“I think something with character like Franklin [High School], like Nolensville [High School], if it’s possible” is what is needed, Planning Commissioner John Church said. Those schools both feature columns in front of double-door entrances. “I don’t want to slow the project down because we need the school, but I think it needs some added character.”
“There is nothing up there that identifies it as a school, and I don’t even see a front door,” Chairman Janet Donahue said. “We don’t necessarily need columns…but it looks like an office building. It’s very sterile.”
The lack of entrance had been a sticking point for Fletcher.
“An entrance is always one of the things you remember the most and gives it a homey sort of…feel more than an industrial feel,” he said. “We’re not building an office on Maryland way, we’re building a school.”
WCS Director of Facilities Kevin Fortney said that his team would take the advice into consideration.
“Give us the opportunity,” he said. “I can assure you I will address it with the powers that be to see what can be done differently,” he added. He also commented that he thought something could definitely be done about the lack of signage.
As far as the rest of the design, Fortney said certain elements, such as the building’s three stories, were necessary due to the limited land available for construction.
Not all of the commissioners took exception with the building’s appearance. Commissioner Carole Crigger, for instance, thought the design was adequate.
“It’s a multi-purpose building,” she said. “I don’t have a problem with it.”
City staff’s recommendation of approval for the site plan was contingent on approval of two other agenda items considered by the Planning Commission Tuesday night.
One of those regarded the plan’s three-story design for the STEM building. Current city ordinances stipulate that a school can only be three stories if one of those is a basement. The Planning Commission voted to approve a recommendation to change that ordinance. The change would simply state that a school building could not be over 60 feet high. The STEM building is currently projected to be 45 feet high.
The other school-related item concerned .85 acres of land in Granny White Park. The City of Brentwood has proposed donating this land to WCS for the new access road leading from the parking lot to Granny White Pike. The City Commission approved the plan on first reading on May 8.
As part of that project a new traffic signal will be built where the road feeds onto Granny White Pike, right across from the Foxland Hall subdivision. One Foxland Hall resident, Ron Doyle, asked how the new road and light would affect traffic in the area.
“Probably at busier times it will be better for you getting out, and at non-busy times you might have to wait a little bit longer for a green light,” City Manager Kirk Bednar said.
A public hearing will take place on this donation of the .85 acres at the City Commission meeting on June 13. The City Commission will consider it on second and final reading at its June 26 meeting.