New high school top story of 2012

12/30/2012

Editor's note: This is the final story in a series featuring The Telegram's top 10 news stories of 2012.

Editor's note: This is the final story in a series featuring The Telegram's top 10 news stories of 2012.

By RACHAEL GRAY

rgray@gctelegram.com

One of the largest 6A schools in the state of Kansas opened this fall when Garden City High School students, teachers and administrators moved into a brand new building in the northeast part of the city.

The new GCHS, 2720 Buffalo Way, is a 384,000-square-foot, $92.5-million school made possible by a bond issue passed in 2008.

The opening of the new high school in August, as well as the subsequent facility changes that resulted throughout the district because of the opening of the new school, is The Telegram's top local news story of 2012.

Rick Atha, USD 457 superintendent, says the commitment of the community to the new school shows that Garden City residents fully support educating youth and providing the best possible facilities.

"I'm very appreciative of our community for stepping up and taking the initiative to support a state-of-the-art, 21st century building. It was a very bold move on the side of our community," he said.

With all of the resources and capabilities within the new school, the students are the biggest winners.

"The benefactor is going to be our kids. And what I see in our kids — they are appreciative and are taking care of this new school," he said.

Atha acknowledged several obstacles in getting used to the new school, but said by the end of the semester, parents, teachers and students were used to the new facility.

"I think, as our patrons know, we had a few bumps in the road in the first few days. Parents and students had to get used to driving to a new school, and get used to the one-way traffic around the loops. Really after the first few days, that all smoothed out," Atha said.

He said it took some time to get used to the building.

"It's very unusual when you open a new high school that's new to everybody, that you're not going to have those types of things. But after the first few days, and especially the first semester, parents, students and administrators have done wonderfully in acclimating to the new high school," he said.

James Mireles, GCHS principal, said the new facility is continuing the tradition of excellence at GCHS.

Earlier this fall, the school was recognized with a National Blue Ribbon Award, which honors public and private elementary, middle and high schools where students perform at very high levels or where significant improvements are being made in students' levels of achievement. GCHS was among six Kansas schools and 269 schools nationwide to receive the honors. A Blue Ribbon banner hangs at the new facility.

During a November ceremony, Mireles recognized the award was years in the making, and that the new high school can only enhance the future successes of students.

Mireles also received the Terrel H. Bell Award. He was one of seven principals in the nation and the only high school principal to receive the award.

The new high school project has been four years in the making, with the bond issue approved for the school in 2008. The bond issue passed narrowly, 4,577-4,354.

The bond issue was prompted by concerns about overcrowding at the old high school, which was built for 1,500 students, along with worries of outdated science labs, cramped locker rooms and other issues. The new high school has room for 2,000 students, and could be expanded to house 500 more.

The USD 457 Board of Education in 2007 formed a staff/citizen committee to study 10 options for the future of GCHS. The group discussed everything from establishing a ninth-grade center to implementing a year-round school calendar, and it settled on two options to recommend to the board: build a second high school or a larger one.

The opening of the new high school led to other facility changes throughout the district. The opening of the new high school allowed for the district to turn the old high school building into a middle school, now named Horace Good Middle School. The former Abe Hubert Middle School is now Abe Hubert Elementary School. The majority of the students who now attend Abe Hubert Elementary School used to attend Garfield Elementary School, which is now Garfield Early Childhood Center. One other change that came as a result of the new high school was moving New Outlook Academy into J.D. Adams Hall, which sits adjacent to Horace Good Middle School.

The old high school covers 225,000 square-feet, and the new school features 384,000 square feet, with 120 classrooms on 160 acres.

The new school is operating within an academy system. The four academies are the Academy of Trade and Health Science, the Academy of Arts and Communications, the Academy of Public Service and the Freshman Academy. Each academy has teachers from different subjects who combine their efforts as a means of integrating academic and technical curriculum. Students are able to participate in different academies each year, with the ultimate purpose of better preparing them for college and careers than traditional educational systems, according to Roy Cessna, USD 457 public information officer.

The $92.5 million project came several million dollars under budget, which allowed the school board to approve construction of a $975,000 ticket/concession/restroom and storage building. This also allowed the asphalt parking to be changed to concrete and for adding artificial turf to the football field, designed to save on future costs.

In March, the school board approved the plan, to include lighting, a scoreboard and seating for 4,000 at the new Buffalo Stadium.

In addition to settling into the new school, students also were handed a technological gift as part of an initiative to equip all high school students with iPads.

Student safety at the building also is a high priority — about 85 cameras are posted inside and outside the building. Students may not leave to go to their cars and must be buzzed in if they're late to school. Academies lock down with separating doors when security has been breached.

Cessna said the design of the building is to keep students safe and engaged.

"It's the districts first building built with extra safety features. That makes students and teachers feel safe, and when they feel safe, they can focus on learning and the wonderful facility," he said.

The second semester of classes at GCHS will begin Jan. 8.

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