District’s high school renovation project nearing completion

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“We were able to start school on time, and we’re near 100 percent finished within the next week to ten days…we’ll be there. It’ll take most of probably the next year for us to get settled. It’s like moving into a new house,” said Chatfield Superintendent Ed Harris.

Harris said the district is reaching near-conclusion of the Chatfield High School renovation project that has taken place over the course of two summers and school years. The project has updated the 1960s-vintage building to modern educational standards.

Harris continued, listing what’s been accomplished as the district endeavored to update its high school facility. “The majority of the building project is complete,” he said. “We’ve been able to stay on budget. The focus was and still is primarily on improving a variety of maintenance issues and updating the academic and circulation spaces.”

Over the course of the summer, the big pieces of the project, like the kitchen, the cafeteria commons and media center got done, as did the exterior and the roof, the front entry, lockers, another handful of classrooms.

“We’re in the process of finishing up the wrestling and fitness room, and we’ve got a new tech ed and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) wing — from an instructional standpoint, the new STEM wing has got to be one of the best around,” he said. “On the exterior, we added metal cladding as well as did some brick staining. We’ve replaced almost every door inside and out, as well as nearly every window. All the corridors have new ceilings and lights so that the hallways are brighter, and we’ve put glass in each exterior door at the end of the hallways so that there’s more light.”

He added that there has been a lot of updating in the air handling system, the utility system had some updates so the district can keep things running right.

“The building should be more energy-efficient because of that and the cladding that we did, because the cladding did add some R-value, particularly in the ’64 part of the building because we found that there was no insulation there,” Harris added.

The superintendent inhaled again, taking in enough breath to outline that most of the high school classrooms are “state of the art” after they were overhauled from floor to ceiling to provide more instructional flexibility, to offer technological updates and to make them more comfortable for group or individual learning.

The district’s pride and joy just might be the LINC, however. “Our academic areas right now could be classified as ‘state of the art’ — in technology, instructional flexibility, a modern look and feel. Our media center is now the ‘LINC,’ or the ‘learning and information network center.’ It’s a pretty dramatic difference. The kids have been very complimentary of that space, like they have been of the new kitchen commons area.”

The former media center was a room with books on the perimeter and computer stations added as an afterthought due to technological revolution. Now, it has been transformed into a place where teachers and students can meet, collaborate, discuss and research — complete with small meeting rooms, large meeting spaces and booths for small groups and individuals.

Harris pointed out that from the very entrance, the LINC offers students the chance to explore the next phase of their education.

“We’ve added this mini kitchen commons, an informal gathering place, outside the LINC, and we might serve snacks from there, use it for concessions. It feels like what you’d see in a college setting — that was kind of the goal, to close the gap between what you’d find here and at a post-secondary setting,” he said.

The LINC has a classroom attached for the FlexStar students, and, from the front door to the other side, the space also serves as a very large hallway kids can pass through.

“We have the booths along the walls, this small meeting space where teachers can show students things on the screen we’re putting up, couches in the middle of the room, booths where kids can sit to read,” Harris continued. “These major updates were made for comfort and flexibility so that kids could have a choice where they wanted to sit. We kept the books here, but we put them in a focused area instead of having all low bookshelves all around the room. From a change standpoint, this is very different.”

The tech education and STEM shop still has some furnishings and fittings that need to be put in place, but essentials are where they ought to be, such as the all-new workbenches and safety equipment.

“There’s a lot of space for equipment, and there’s 3-dimensional tech like laser engraving, 3-D printing and replication, as well as the woodshop. It’s made the training and learning environment better,” he said.

Harris remarked that a storage space off the shop will be organized with better storage units as soon as there’s time, but that the agri-science classroom occupied by ag instructor Stacy Fritz has just about everything Fritz needs to teach students why agriculture is important.

“Her classroom has cooking tables and stations, instructional space, a lot of space for science and engineering, and even a critter room for the animals she keeps for her classes,” Harris said.

Down the hall, changes were made to the band room because of design requirements to other parts of the building, affording teacher Katy Schleusner an improved band instrument storage room that allows students to enter one end, get their instruments and go out the other end of the storage room.

While the district’s alternative learning program (ALP) used to be housed in a classroom just inside the front entryway, it has relocated down the corridor to the former family and consumer science (FACS) classroom.

Fritz had taken over this space when the district discontinued what is commonly known as home economics education. It is now outfitted with a perimeter of computer stations and plenty of flexible learning corners for students to stay comfortable and on task to finish their assignments.

Another notable change encompasses how students dine during the school day, because the former Gopherteria, a walled-off kitchen and cafeteria that seated only a couple grades at a time, didn’t have a very thoughtful traffic pattern, overflow seating or cozy dining alcoves.

The kitchen now lacks the wall that directed traffic and suffocated the room’s atmosphere, the dining space has been bumped into where there used to be a wall, and the removal of another wall from what used to be the weight room has created an additional dining commons and community gathering room.

The superintendent cited that the kitchen and cafeteria updates expedite serving lunch and therefore allot the staff more instructional time that would have gone toward getting everyone fed.

Harris related the district is still unpacking its boxes and making its renovated building “home” again.

“We’ve got some landscaping to do outside, some cleanup to do between this fall and spring to get everything tidy. The cleaning will be ongoing because there’s a lot of construction dust,” he said. “The front entry needs some work yet because there was a delay on the stone skirting. I don’t expect that to get done until next spring. We’ve put new exterior LED lighting all the way around the building so that the lights are bright and consistent. We will have some storage containers onsite, but most of those are to do with the pool project, and because we don’t have the big storage shed anymore. And now that the old pool is gone, we have a nice big parking lot. We don’t know when or if that will be paved, but that means more parking…the students have already made use of the gravel parking where the pool used to be. We’re still getting settled.”

The district has tentatively set an open house for Nov. 8 to allow the public to tour the high school building and take in the changes, something Harris concluded is rather important given that it was the taxpayers’ decision to approve the renovations.

Harris thanked the community for its support of the district’s students through their vote and reiterated that the students are also grateful.