JFK Middle School prepares for a major facelift

Published 9:38 am Wednesday, September 27, 2023

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John F. Kennedy Middle School’s replacement project is in the final stages before beginning construction. The school’s condition has been the subject of many discussions during school board meetings: a facilities condition assessment presented at the Thursday, March 9 board meeting showed that JFKMS had a facility condition index rating of 34.09%, ranking in “poor” condition. During the Thursday, Sept. 21, school board work session, board members discussed the Capital Improvement Plan and ranked the SPS facilities with immediate need. JFKMS was ranked at number one. 

Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III provided a follow-up on what residents can expect next for the school’s replacement project.

“Everything has already been approved for the official construction to begin. Now it’s just really about finalizing all your subcontractors, which the construction company is going to do,” Gordon said. “We’ll be working for the next two years, probably about 26, maybe 28 months. And as soon as the new building is up and school has now ended, we’re going to move the staff out, this will be in the summer. Move the staff in June of 2026, move them out of the old building into the new one.”

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Gordon detailed that MB Kahn Construction Co. and RRMM Architects have been chosen to work on the project after winning their proposed bids. Along with the new building’s capacity planned for 800 students (current JFKMS has 550), Gordon noted how different departments will have their separate buildings.

“The thing that a lot of people need to realize is that there are also additional buildings on the JFK campus. We have our instructional technology department located there on the JFK campus, they will now have their own separate building. We also have the SECEP(Southeastern Cooperative Education Program), a regional special education program for students that have severe disabilities. That will also be a separate building and I’m trying to work with our local division partners to also use that facility to see if there’s any funding available from their side,” Gordon said. “So this is really three buildings that, currently right now, are housed within JFK’s campus that we’re going to end up having one main school, a separate IT building, a separate SECEP building … the current school location will become the athletic fields, and the athletic fields will become the new school location. So we’re kind of flipping it.”

Gordon says the project will break ground in October with an estimated completion date of May/June 2026. The project will cost $74.8 million for the main school building, IT building, SECEP building, and furniture/fixtures/equipment.

Gordon noted that funding will be distributed three ways: the City providing $53 million over three years (some already spent for design fees), $15.3 million from a school construction grant, and another $6.5 million from the city that was initially set aside for renovating the SPS human resources building. Likewise, Gordon said they will take as much equipment as possible from the old school, including whiteboards, but brand new furniture will be bought for the school’s new building.

“As soon as the staff is in that building and we’ve taken over occupancy from the city, then we’re going to demolish the current school. Once the current school is demolished and all the rubble is cleared out of there, we’re probably going to have auctions for people who want to come and get old auditorium seats or bricks … but as soon as that is over, then we’ll begin to lay the groundwork down and put in the new athletic facilities. That’s going to be the plan.”

Built in September 1965 initially as John F. Kennedy High School, the school would become John F. Kennedy Middle School in June 1990. Gordon talked about the school’s rich and strong tradition and alumni base that’s still active within the school system.

“Mrs. [Karen] Jenkins, Del. [Clinton] Jenkins and the Principal, Chanel Woods, are alumni of the school,” Gordon said. “Ms. Woods has really done a great job of having the alumni to come back in for mentoring the school improvement projects and also still being really involved.” Gordon detailed.

Gordon also noted meeting with the alumni association “several times” to discuss the replacement project, namely to provide updates and the need to get it going. He talked about the issues the school has suffered from that led to the replacement project.

“One of the main things and probably the largest concern is John F. Kennedy has had a history of flooding within the building, and that happens somewhat because of the elevation, but also because of just some leaks that probably have been going on under there for the last 30 to 40 years and we’ve brought in the fans, and we’ve done sealant, we’ve replaced the roof. We’ve done everything that we possibly can, but there still ends up being different areas that leak,” he detailed.

Gordon said he hopes heavy rain from the recent tropical storm would not add sinkholes. He reflected on a previous sinkhole incident.

“We actually had one at JFK that was along the walkway that one of our staff members actually stepped into. And we were so thankful that she didn’t get severely injured because of that,” “So when you take a look at the flooding occurring in the school, when you take a look at the overall cost for just general and preventive maintenance, those are things that we push with the board that said ‘We need to make this school number one to get replaced.’ It should have been replaced at least 10 years ago.”

Gordon confirmed that the repairs won’t affect students’ school schedules. The only adjustment they will see is where they will be participating in outdoor sports. Finally, Gordon expressed his optimism for the project and future projects for Suffolk Public Schools, including a future groundbreaking for Northern Shores Elementary School planned for next summer.

“We’re super excited about it. This shows the strength of when you have a strong partnership between your locality as far as being in City Council and School Board to put this project together,” he said. “What I’m probably the most proud of is that this plan that we put in place, this concept of rebuilding and not renovating schools that I talked about from Day One since I’ve been here is actually coming into fruition. We’re making it happen …”


Editor’s note: Updated second passage and second, fifth and sixth quotes at 4:25 p.m., Wednesday, September 27 to reflect grammatical corrections.