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ABSS retiring COO assures: new high school still on time

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The departing chief operations officer for the Alamance-Burlington school system gave his final, parting assurances to school board members that construction of Southeast High School will be completed in time to open for the 2023-24 school year.

ABSS chief operations officer Dr. Todd Thorpe’s last day with ABSS was last Tuesday, capping his 33-year career in public education.

Thorpe paused at the conclusion of a related discussion, about a change order for Southeast High School, to reassure board members during their work session last week that the new high school would open on time.

The 221,000-square foot Southeast High School is currently under construction at 3368 South N.C. Highway 119, near the Honda Power Equipment in Swepsonville.

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Construction of the $67 million Southeast High School is being funded by the $150 million bond package that voters approved for ABSS in November 2018.

Substantial completion of the new high school is currently targeted for late May of this year, according to a senior vice president from Samet (the contractor) who updated the board on the progress of the construction late last month.

The change order was to use $300,000 within the contingency portion of the construction budget for Southeast High School to cover the following costs: a biodirectional amplifier (BDA) system for technology; fiber optic relocation; landscaping and stone work; install automatic versus manual rollup doors in the cafeteria; and additional finishes throughout the school.

School board members voted 7-0 during their work session last Tuesday afternoon to approve the change order.

Board members had previously voted 7-0 in December 2022 to approve a $1.6 million contract with Blankenship Associates of Raleigh for the furniture at Southeast High School. Thorpe had described the design concept as giving the school “the 21st Century look without going overboard.”

The design styles presented to the board in December included what Thorpe described as “soft seating” that would be conducive to collaborative learning and small-group discussions, as well as portable seating and tables that can be easily moved, based on photos that one of the company’s representatives presented at the time.

“On every one of your academic wings, there’s a student learning area; it will be an area for them to hang out,” Thorpe told the board in December.

The outgoing chief operations officer had estimated at the time that the furniture will arrive at Southeast High School this spring.

The $1.6 million furniture contract with Blankenship Associates included furnishings for all of the classrooms, offices, cafeteria, and media center, as well as furniture for “extended learning areas,” such as a back wall in the cafeteria that will have “soft seating” where students can gather, Thorpe said.

“The cafeteria is fully open; the only wall you’ve got is the back wall,” Thorpe elaborated during the earlier discussion. “It’s open to student traffic; it’s a very nice open concept; it’s why we’ve got soft seating there.”

“It’s no longer that you’re going to this little building to have lunch,” Thorpe told the board in December. “It’s as if you’re having lunch at a mall.” He said this style has been widely used in schools for at least 20 years. “It’s been well-tested,” Thorpe said. “If you have a school dance, you can roll all this furniture out of the way; it’s really elegant.”

Hawfields Middle School principal Greg Hook has been hired to succeed Thorpe as chief operations officer; he is currently scheduled to start in the position on March 1.

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