Published 8/28/2012 in Special Sections : GCHS
By RACHAEL GRAY
With the new Garden City High School complete and students and faculty settling into their new home, GCHS Principal James Mireles and USD 457 Superintendent Rick Atha can reflect on the work that has gone into building the state-of-the-art facility, as well as what it means to finally have it open.
Brad Nading/Telegram A large buffalo is etched on one of the north windows of the Garden City High School commons area. The north end of the commons area has been named 'the point.'
Brad Nading/TelegramA courtyard area is located outside the main entrance side of the Garden City High School.
Brad Nading/Telegram A panoramic view of Garden City High School's south entrance.
Brad Nading/TelegramThe outside main entrance for the new Garden City High School features benches and sandstone rocks for seating.
Brad Nading/TelegramGarden City High School weight room is located in the lower level.
Becky Malewitz/ Telegram
Brad Nading/TelegramA group of Garden City High School students make their way out of the commons area and back to the classrooms Thursday after one of the lunch periods. GCHS has a closed lunch period this year, where all students stay in the building during lunch.
Becky Malewitz/ TelegramStudents commute between classes on Thursday.
Brad Nading/Telegram A portion of the Garden City High School commons area is shown on the first day during one of the lunch periods at the school. GCHS has a closed lunch hour this year.
Brad Nading/TelegramSecurity cameras are located on all sides of Garden City High School along the roof.
Brad Nading/Telegram A new scoreboard and video screen is tested at Garden City High School's football stadium earlier this month.
Brad Nading/TelegramGarden City High School's media center.
The new GCHS facility opened to students on Wednesday, with freshmen orientation, and was open to all students the following day.
Mireles said he's glad to have students in the building.
"The building was neat in itself. But to see the students in here, and utilizing the new features, it means it's all come together," he said.
Atha echoed Mireles' sentiment.
"It's been a lot of time and a lot of plans to make this happen," he said.
Now that students and faculty are utilizing the 384,000-square-foot, $92.5-million school, they're having adjust to life in the new school.
Some upperclassmen are disappointed they no longer have open lunch. Students, parents and the public are concerned with morning and afternoon traffic around the facility and the city streets near the building.
"It's a learning process for everyone. But I think once people get used to it, they won't mind as much," he said.
The new high school brings the classrooms of GCHS all under one roof, instead of expanding out to mobile classrooms. State-of-the-art classrooms and technology enhance the learning experience for all students whether they're in culinary arts, welding or media, school officials have said.
A new stadium to the north of the building will provide a new field and track, and the school also features new tennis courts, a 2,500-seat gymnasium and a weight room that dwarfs the one at the old school.
Atha said the new high school is an asset to the community.
"The new high school is a major part of the district's long-range facility plan that will assist our teachers and staff in meeting the educational needs of our district for many years. More importantly, it is a financial investment by our community in our kids to give them the 21st century skills to compete in an ever-changing technological world. We are very fortunate to live in a community that supports the education of its youth," he said.
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 to replace the current building.
Groundbreaking for the new facility took place in September 2009.
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 career academy has teachers from different subjects who will 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, 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.
The amount saved is difficult to determine at the beginning of the school year, according to Atha.
"After moving into the new high school, we may have some unforeseen issues arise that may need to be addressed," he said.
Atha said the district would provide an accurate number in the future on money saved.
In March, the school board approved the plan, to include lighting, a scoreboard and seating for 4,000 at the stadium. The $912,000 project is expected to cost the district $600,000 out of bond monies. Donors and sponsors have committed to $300,000 for the project.
In addition to settling into the new school, students soon will be handed a technological gift as part of an initiative to equip all high school students with iPads.
Darren Dennis, USD 457's assistant superintendent for learning services, said the tool will be useful for the new type of testing, as school districts move to Common Core Standards for state testing.
Student safety at the building 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.
"The top priority is to keep students safe, and to keep them at school," he said.
The board and administrators agreed on one entrance to the high school due to safety concerns. Although traffic is congested before and after school, Mireles say it's for the best.
"People will just have to start building in that 20-30 minutes of inconvenience into their schedules," Mireles said.
Mireles said he's excited about the first year at the new high school.
"It's a beautiful facility. But there are certain things that the teachers, staff and students will need to get used to," he said. "I think everyone will be better off with this new school."
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