School construction project continues to move forward, on time and on budget

The exterior of the high school's front entrance is looking up — literally — as windows are being installed above the doorway to brighten up the interior. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
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As the summer progresses and the new school year gets closer, construction continues at the Chatfield High School.

“Outside the media center, we’re putting in a casual secondary gathering area with a sink and counter, possibly an area for serving things, a place for parent-teacher conference nights, a place to set up for the kids during the day,” explained Superintendent Ed Harris. “It’s a bit of a coffee shop feel, with casual seating. We’ve tried to do, where we could, emulate the kinds of places that people enjoy…like at colleges or doctors’ offices where you come in and it’s comfortable and there’s coffee for people to enjoy.”

Harris pointed out the framework for a serving bar outside the Chatfield High School (CHS) media center, which has been completely demolished and is now being fitted with cozy reading nooks, group learning rooms and skylights to let in the sunshine even on a cloudy day. These changes will transform the vintage-1960s media center that was located in this area just a short two months ago.

The media center — formerly just a library until the addition of a computer lab there when such became necessary — is just one of the renovation projects underway at CHS, part of a two-summer, full-school-year improvement project that’s meant to update the 1960s-era high school building for students who are using a different learning model than what was popular 50 years ago.

A science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) wing was added to the original structure over the course of the 2017-2018 winter — relocating several departments’ classrooms to a central, interdisciplinary space that includes ag and vocational tech. This work was done in conjunction with replacing windows and doors throughout the school; digging into the hallway walls to replace lockers, painting and shining up the gymnasium; providing new biology and chemistry classrooms; overhauling the front entrance, kitchen, cafeteria and commons; increasing security at the front entrance by adding windows for office staff to see out; cladding parts of the building in black metal; roofing where necessary, and fitting non-dedicated classrooms with new casework, flooring, furnishings and technology that allow for students to collaborate while in class.

Harris pointed out that the project is on schedule and on budget and that its purpose is to offer instructors the classrooms they need to do their jobs, and students, the learning environment they need to become educated in this day and time.

“Work started a year ago June 5, and it’s been two full summers and one full school year. We’re doing this for maintenance reasons and educational reasons,” Harris said. “Most all of the really invasive, intensive work is done, and now, we’re trying to be ready for students. The media center, hallways and kitchen are the primary places. Ceilings, paint, finishes, doors are going on…windows are installed and roofing is underway.”

Harris adds that there will be additional equipment and furnishings coming the last part of August, so that will be a busy time for the project.

“There’s work left in the fitness room, media center, guidance office, the cafeteria. The gym is nearing the end of its refresh — the gym wall up high will be a lighter color for contrast…we’re trying to give it a modern look,” he said. “The cladding outside…we’ll break up the building a bit. It’s really long, and there’s an effort to use materials that give it character. The front entry is underway, and we’ve been able to make some changes to improve security aspects — primarily visibility and door control. Also, the entrance will have a wall to the south to enclose the (services) to the building.”

The superintendent continued listing, sharing that the new kitchen will be open to the cafeteria, that the cafeteria will have a recessed dining space with high-top tables for students to enjoy that “coffeehouse” vibe, and that the dining commons to the northwest will double as community space.

“The kitchen has been completely gutted, so there will be two lunch lines, and we have the extra dining commons so that we don’t have to have three lunch hours, and that means that there will be more educational time for students,” Harris said. “The dining commons will support groups and different grades and have high-top and low sit-up seating.”

Classrooms that have not been torn up and refinished in the past year are part of the 2018 summer project, as are the guidance office — where there will be a window to the hallway to serve students from the office.

The large group multipurpose study hall has now had concrete risers poured to allow for students to better see instructors and possibly One Act Play and Rube Goldberg presentations, among other things.

The agri-science room where Stacy Fritz will teach students how the world works, based on agriculture’s intrinsic place in people’s lives, has brand new stoves, lab space, some storage and even a dedicated animal room with windows for natural light.

The industrial tech shop has natural light as well, coming from a glass overhead garage door that keeps everyone filled up on sunshine’s vitamin D.

The superintendent remarked that the glass overhead door is not the only one that will be placed in the structure, as there are plans for another to be included in a classroom’s design, guaranteeing that it’s going to be a bright, bright, sunshiny day indoors, no matter the weather outside.

Harris observed that the project has gone well and he feels the community will appreciate the results. “In general, it’s on time and on budget. That’s a good thing. One of the biggest challenges right now is getting to clean all the areas that need to be clean before school starts,” he said. “There’s been work in all the rooms, so we’ve got to clean them all. We’ve had input from the staff and a little input from the kids. We thought that the teachers, as users, should help be the crafters of the concepts and the designs. We’re hopeful that the kids and staff like it. All said and done, we’re appreciative of it, very grateful to the community for its support to allow us to do this for the kids.”