The Newnan Times-Herald

Subscribe Now

Subscribe Now

Arts & Community

A new start: Initial plans for rebuilding Newnan High School unveiled

  • By Rebecca Leftwich
  • |
  • Jan. 25, 2022 - 12:33 PM

A new start: Initial plans for rebuilding Newnan High School unveiled

Photo courtesy Southern A&E/Coweta Schools

Initial renderings show how the new main building at Newnan High School will maintain the historical look of the original school on LaGrange Street.

An initial rendering of the Newnan High School rebuild includes replication of the most iconic features of the original main building, right down to matching the brick color and mimicking the limestone.

“I don’t think there will be anybody who will drive up to this facility and think, ‘That’s not Newnan High School,’” said Steve McCune of Southern A&E, who revealed the rendering at the Coweta County Board of Education meeting Tuesday.

Plans are to demolish 13 buildings on the NHS campus destroyed when an EF-4 tornado ripped through Newnan on March 26, 2021. The original school building – along with the cafeteria, auditorium, old gymnasium and the music, athletic and vocational buildings – suffered substantial structural damage in the March 26 tornado, and plans are to replace them with five new buildings.

The original school building opened in 1952 at 190 LaGrange Street, and in the intervening years the campus has expanded to fill an entire city block. More than 2,200 students finished the 2020-21 school year online as cleanup and damage assessment began, with Drake Stadium a priority as graduation day loomed for the Class of ’21.

Commencement ceremonies were held in the stadium just two months after the devastating storm, and students in grades 10-12 returned to campus last August to attend classes in three relatively undamaged buildings at the center of campus and several mobile classrooms. Newnan High freshmen were moved to the Central Educational Center, where they are housed in a combination of permanent classrooms and “Cougar Village” – a cluster of mobile classrooms.

The initial hope for the Coweta County Board of Education, and much of the community, was that Newnan High’s iconic main building could be salvaged. But by late fall 2021, structural engineers had notified the board there wasn’t much they could do to bring the buildings up to code.

The two-story main building was built entirely of reinforced concrete and built over a crawl space also made of reinforced concrete. The walls were load-bearing, making it a near-impossible task to shore up the structure enough to allow the walls to be replaced.

To do so also could have potentially jeopardized $15 million in state funds. Eligibility for those funds required a guarantee that the building would be usable for at least 40 more years – a gamble the school system’s architects and engineers weren’t willing to take, especially when the structure had been built in a way that made it impossible to properly inspect.

The cafeteria, auditorium, music building and old gym faced the same fate, largely because of extensively damaged roofing systems, of a type that also covers half the vocational building. The athletic building was slated for a rebuild, not because of roof deck problems but because of substantial damage to the structure itself.

A proposal for the rebuild reflects a focus on maintaining the historical look of the school, in consideration of how meaningful it is to many in the local community.

“I think we’ve done a good job of capturing the character and the spirit of Newnan High School,” McCune said. “And I hope the public likes it. We’ve tried to mimic the style used and the designs used that people remember.”

Among the features in the initial rendering are a two-story main building similar to the original building, which will contain administrative offices on the main level, with the media center and new science and technology labs on the second floor.

McCune said an elevator will be installed and both parallel and perpendicular hallways expanded to help students move around more efficiently and to better meet ADA standards.

An expanded cafeteria and kitchen will flank the left side of the building, and a new auditorium will flank the right, but the auditorium will look very different from the original facility that faced LaGrange Street.

Engineers will utilize the large hill on the right side of the campus to create a three-story component, adding a new parking lot that leads directly into a now side-facing auditorium. This will allow people attending special theatre and music events to park in the lot and walk straight into the new entrance. The band and chorus rooms will occupy upper levels of the auditorium wing.

The rebuilt athletic building and old gym – built three stories as visible from Drake Stadium – will feature a meeting room for athletics capable of holding 120 people, a two-story wrestling room with a weight room underneath, coaches offices and an extension to the existing locker room wrestling room.

As he revealed the renderings Tuesday, McCune cautioned board members that the plans are initial proposals, and that many changes will be made before the final project is set.

“I just want everybody to know these things are a work in progress,” he said. “A lot of times we’ll show you a pretty picture of something, and that’s the last thing anybody ever remembers. And then the next time people see it they say, ‘Well, that’s not what you showed us.’ I’m just going to tell you it’s a process of refinement until we get it just right, so bear with us.”

Still, Superintendent Evan Horton said he was pleased with the initial plans.

“I appreciate what you guys have done,” he told McCune. “I know we’re going to continue to refine it as we move forward, but we’re off to a great start.”