It took three years and $89 million to renovate, expand and upgrade Columbus North and Columbus East high schools.
This week, taxpayers who footed the bill are being invited on consecutive nights to see how that time and money was spent.
North will conduct an open house Tuesday. East will conduct an open house Wednesday. Both open houses will run from 5 to 7 p.m., and both will precede the high schools’ biggest basketball games of the year — against each other — to boost attendance.
“These buildings belong to the community,” said John Quick, superintendent of the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. “These are our flagship schools. We want people to see.”
Voters approved the building improvement projects in a 2008 ballot referendum that underscored the need to modernize the schools to meet students’ 21st-century educational needs. That has resulted in combined building expansions of about 200,000 square feet, sweeping renovations and infrastructure upgrades that have seen wireless Internet connectivity become a way of life in both buildings.
Quick said all that remains is a “punch list” of minor tasks, such as moving electrical outlets based on classroom needs. Everything else is done, leaving the school district with two state-of-the-art schools operated across about 1 million square feet of space.
At North this past week, students expertly navigated the halls and enjoyed the 56-year-old building’s improvements, which include larger classrooms, more natural light, an expanded C4 Columbus Area Career Connection wing, new flooring and new ceilings.
The cafeteria features new serving lines and a two-story wall of clear and blue geometric glass panels. The band and choir rooms have been enlarged in a spacious music wing. The main entrance and all administrative offices have shifted from the south side of the building to the expanded north side.
Janie Gordon, the North choir director, said she and her music students are thrilled with the improved acoustics, the addition of eight soundproof practice rooms and enough storage room to handle uniforms and equipment for choir and band.
She said the music department previously stored uniforms and equipment at the homes of its boosters because of a lack of storage space in the school. Earlier, music rooms did not have the benefit of higher ceilings and acoustic tiles on the walls and ceilings to absorb sounds.
Libby Arthur, social studies department chairwoman for North, said the most significant change for her classrooms has been the implementation of cutting-edge technology, making it easier for teachers to lead and for students to learn.
Classrooms have LCD monitors mounted on the ceilings that can play DVDs, for example. And document cameras are available that can magnify any document on a big screen.
“We even have a built-in speaker system that’s wonderful,” Arthur said. “Now kids who can’t hear that soft-spoken girl give a presentation can hear them just fine. That makes it better for everyone.”
Student body president Zak Ruehman said seniors were particularly excited to see the improvements, as many of them remember the school the way it was their freshman year before the construction began.
“It’s not a dreary school anymore,” he said. He remembers trekking out to the portable classrooms in the rain his freshman year. “It’s (now) one we can really be proud of.”
Ruehman, who takes engineering classes, said he finds the expanded C4 wing especially impressive and is looking forward to showing it off when he leads open house tours this week.
Senior Megan Peterson said she likes the new resource center, which offers students quiet study space before and after class, and the bright, airy cafeteria.
“I wish I could go back and experience high school all over again in this new school,” Peterson said.
At East this past week, students enjoyed the 40-year-old building’s vast improvements in natural light, basking in the glow of overhead windows in the student resource area, for example.
Other improvements have included upgrades to the swimming pool, renovating the main academic area on the second floor, the creation of a 5,000-square-foot transportation lab and consolidating the administrative offices in a former courtyard area on the Marr Road side of the building to make them easier for the public to find.
The bare concrete floors and alphabetically coded stairwells are gone. In their place are epoxy floors that look like terrazzo and colorfully painted stairwells.
East Principal Mark Newell said some of the most significant changes were the expansion of the science lab by at least a third and addition of large classrooms to allow for combined studies.
Art teacher Jim Ponsford said the section of the building devoted to different kinds of art has improved greatly. For one thing, it was moved from a relatively hidden part of the school to an area near the front entrance. That makes their wares, such as artwork that hangs in the hall, more visible.
The art area also is far larger and has an outdoor area that allows students to go outside for inspiration, regardless of whether they’re painting, working with clay or drawing.
The construction period created some distractions for students while it was proceeding, such as “the fire alarms going off while the wiring was being worked on,” senior Sarah Weaver said. “Now that I see the improvements, I understand why it took so long.”
Liz Lindsey, who has been a teaching assistant at East’s lab for 25 years, said the lab’s larger size allows more students to work at once. It also allows for the first-time designation of a lab table specifically for independent study.
Lindsey said students often need to come in during their free time to catch up on assignments. Before the renovation, those students had to make arrangements for Lindsey to set out the equipment, which had to be removed as soon as the students were done so others could use the space. Now, a table is set up at all times, specifically for the students catching up.
“It’s more open, and you’re not so secluded,” senior Kapri Geraghty said of the resource area.
“It’s made it a lot more convenient,” Lindsey added.
But Newell said convenience is just part of the equation. The school overall simply is more usable to teachers and students.
“It’s a place where students want to come and learn,” he said. “It expands the opportunities for our students in impressive ways.”
That includes the athletic department, which has a new leg press in the weight room and a new basketball court, said senior Ridge Harris, a basketball player. “The weight room is nice because it has windows all along the far wall,” Harris said.
Staff writer Jennifer Willhite and features editor Beth Clayton-George contributed to this report.
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