Crystal Kampen and Sean Pantin

Wheat Middle School Principal Crystal Kampen discusses the new classroom additions for her campus with PBK Architects Principal Designer Sean Pantin. Architects will meet with Wheat faculty and staff — fine arts to food services — for design input in preparation for the start to the construction and renovation project for the campus, approved by voters in passing Proposition A in the May 2021 bond referendum.

Thank you banners have gone up on Cleburne ISD Bond 2021 information signs around town, signaling the first steps to the start of the renovation/addition project at Wheat Middle School, which was among the initiatives approved by voters on May 4. 

The approved propositions of the 2021 bond referendum involves a series of projects, led by major improvements to the A.D. Wheat campus, which opened in 1991. A groundbreaking event is planned for October, launching Phase One of the two-year project, starting with the construction of 22 new classrooms to be located on the perimeter of the current building. Ultimately, the campus will be expanded by over 40,000 square feet of new instruction.   

 Phase Two will involve renovations throughout the school, with students utilizing their new classrooms as the core of the building is addressed in stages. 

The construction/renovation “transformation” will result in a new building layout. Included in the “new” will be more natural light, courtyard, outdoor amphitheater, a turf competition field, locker and weight rooms, a new gymnasium, a multipurpose library/media center — guaranteed to engage and inspire students — and a redesigned main entry to be located on the east side of the campus. 

With the start to the 2023-24 school year, when the project is complete, Wheat will return to its original function as the district’s seventh-eighth grade campus. It’s location across the street from the high school will provide students increased access to Career and Technical Education facilities and programs.

School board approval of Imperial Construction as the construction manager at risk for the Wheat project, followed by the sale of bonds on June 29, were critical first steps, Superintendent Kyle Heath said. Trustees retained PBK Architects for consulting and design services. 

“We had to have these pieces in place before we could get out of the starting blocks,” Heath said. “It was very exciting to sit down over the last several months with the architects and our Wheat administrators to get the first look at conceptual site and floor plans.

“Our first goal is to get the largest construction done, in order to relocate students to those spaces as we begin work in the core areas of the building. When we’re done with construction and renovation, Wheat will look like a new campus. The building has great bones to begin with. We are going to modernize it, in creating a state of the art campus for 21st century middle school learners.”

The next step in anticipation of moving dirt in late fall is bringing architects and the Wheat staff together for a “drilling down” in collecting input regarding classroom and program needs. Representatives from PBK will begin meetings with departments and small groups — fine arts to food services — over the next two weeks.

“We want to establish goals for what the spaces within the building need to look like, based on input from staff,” said Sean Pantin, PBK principal designer. “We are putting this in their hands to ensure we know what needs to be accomplished by the construction and renovation. Everything will be based on curriculum, which will influence the various learning environments within the building.

“This is a project for the next 50 years. We are planning for this school’s use now and for the future. This is a long-term build.”

Crystal Kampen, who is just getting settled into her office as the new principal at Wheat, is bringing a lot to the “drill down” as a former teacher at the campus prior to spending four years as the assistant principal at Cooke Elementary School. 

“This is unique for me, being the new principal and having the opportunity to be a part of the design for what will feel like a new school,” Kampen said. “It’s a little overwhelming — and very exciting. I think this will also be exciting for our staff to be a part of the design process. I’m also looking forward to the day we break ground.  That will be special for all of us, staff and students, in making the construction real — it’s coming to life — it’s happening.

“I know we will be amazed at where we are now, and where we’re going to be. This is going to be really good for kids. What we’ve seen in the concept designs is beautiful.”

Bond funds approved with the passage of Proposition A will also address renovations to Smith Middle School, starting in 2022. Effective with the 2023-24 school year, Smith will serve as an intermediate campus for all fifth and sixth grades. Construction at both Wheat and Smith will increase student capacity to 1450, in preparation for growth predictions starting as early as the coming school year. 

New grade configurations, which hinged on the passage of Bond 2021, include the district’s elementary campuses, which will serve pre-kindergarten through fourth grade starting in 2023-24. Moving fifth grade off the campuses will allow for anticipated growth and time in planning for future needs, which will involve parents and the community.

Components within Proposition A will also address improvements to the interior of the Don Smith Performing Arts Center, upgrades to technology infrastructure across the district and campus safety and security improvements. 

The passage of Proposition C, providing new instructional technology for all teachers, will begin with a planned roll-out starting this school year, following the development of a timeline for installation and administration.  

“We are thankful to voters in their approval of these two propositions within Bond 2021, which will have tremendous positive impact on our students and learning,” Heath said. “This community shared our vision in passing bond 2016 which included the construction of the new Cleburne High School. All that has been done at CHS has really changed the landscape at that campus — beyond the creation of new buildings. That change in the landscape has provided new programs and opportunities in Career and Technical Education, academics, athletics and now, Navy Junior ROTC beginning this fall.”   

The agenda for the July 19 school board meeting will include the presentation of a general schematic of the Wheat project.

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