After the rear portion of the middle school was destroyed by the April 2011 tornado, eighth-grade students were relocated to the high school, where they shared a very small portion of two halls and the cafeteria. While most of the middle school was rebuilt and ready to receive students soon after the storm, a brand new wing had to be built for the eighth-graders.
Mike Sholl, middle school principal, said the temporary situation at the high school provided a suitable remedy, but the return would be great for everyone involved.
“Being split up like this has been tough,” Sholl said. “It's hard to keep strong school spirit going when a big part of the student body is in another building. For instance, a lot of the athletes are over there and all the students aren't hearing the announcements about ball games or how the teams are doing. Things like that promote school spirit, so we'll be glad to be united again and get that energy going again.”
Just shy of 42,000 square feet, the $6 million facility boasts 14 high-tech classrooms equipped with smart boards and projectors, three generously sized science rooms designed for extensive hands-on experiments, a computer lab and a business lab, a spacious new art room, and a largely accommodating music area. Doug Suits, director of operations, said one of their prized features was the updated band and chorus area.
“I'm pretty sure we're the first and only high school in the county that has these new acoustic tiles on the ceiling,” Suits said. “Our architect Ray Boaz really did an outstanding job in here. We have practice rooms, an instrument room, and there is a large loading door and a ramp as well, which will be great for moving and loading all their equipment, so we're excited about that.”
While much attention was paid to amenities and technology, safety was certainly not overlooked. Halls are flanked with giant hidden roll doors on tracks, which are automatically activated and lowered upon alarm, enclosing students in safe areas.
Although ultra-modern with an open floor plan, ample sunlight and “floating cloud” ceilings, the outside brick facades of the old and new wing easily blend together. Likewise, Sholl said, even though one area was rebuilt and one was newly built from the ground up, the look and feel inside and out was relatively seamless.
“Even though older parts of the school (sixth- and seventh-grade wing) are 60-70 years old, the infrastructure is all brand new,” Sholl said. “It has brand new wiring, all new lights, a ceiling and a roof. All the painting and the colors are new and run through both areas, so it's like a brand new building.”
A favorite spot of Sholl's is one of the window-lined stairwells in the new wing, which offers a panoramic view of the recently completed athletic fields, also destroyed by the tornado. Bright blue and white logos make a vivid splash against the new lush green Astroturf field and shiny bleachers.
More notably, the view lends itself to the still-discernable 500-yard path of broken trees and strewn branches stretching atop Taylor's Ridge, a visible reminder of the reason for the rebuild. While a stranger might see the spot on the mountain as an eyesore, Sholl said the view is amazing.
“Finishing this wing, for me and for us at this school, is closure from the tornado,” Sholl said. “This is the last thing. We've gone through all kinds of different steps to get here, so this is closure to that event. It's a celebration. As devastating as that day was to our community and to our schools, this will be an equally great day of coming back.”