By Kathryn Schiliro
Morgan County High School’s (MCHS) incoming freshmen will be treated to new digs come August, as the school will open the doors of its new classroom building, which will house the Freshman Academy, this school year.
The building is 25,000 square feet and holds 10 classrooms and two science labs. Planning began in 2011, and construction, by Kevin Price General Contractors, has been in progress for a year.
Along with the classrooms and fully equipped labs, the large room at the front of the building, filled with high-top tables, is meant to have a “student center-type atmosphere,” inviting students to work in groups or on their laptops or other computing devices, according to MCHS Assistant Principal Davis Bell, who also oversees the Freshman Academy.
Originally budgeted to cost more than $3 million, the total for construction actually came in at $2.94 million-plus, about $88,000 underbudget, Superintendent Dr. Ralph Bennett told the school board at their May meeting.
More than $2.2 million of the cost of construction of the building was paid for with Education Local Option Sales Tax (ELOST) funds – the schools’ 1 percent countywide sales tax – while state funding made up the more than $720,000 difference, at a cost per square foot of almost $117. The board made its final payment to Kevin Price in May.
The decision to place the building toward the back of the campus, next to the new gym, was made “to minimize [construction] disruptions during the existing school year,” according to Bell.
“The newness of the place is a breath of fresh air,” Malanowski said. “It’s a nice extension of the architecture of the new gym.”
The Freshman Academy being housed in this new classroom building has allowed for the elimination of four classes housed in trailers, or “cozy cottages of learning,” also near the new gym.
“It just feels temporary,” Malanowski said, about the cottages. “This [move to the new building] just adds some stability… They have their own identity down here [at the Freshman Academy] in terms of feeling like they have a place.”
Additionally, at the front of the school’s main building, five classrooms have been freed up where Freshman Academy was located. These rooms will now house world language classes, which were spread out throughout the building. Now they will be concentrated together. Freshman Academy teachers are, of course, excited about their new home.
“It’s amazing,” English teacher Tara Mahoney said. Mahoney, formerly housed in a trailer, pointed out that before, students had to move along covered walkways to get to her class. Now, on rainy days especially, freshmen “don’t have to leave the building except for their language and elective classes.”
First-year ninth grade English teacher Ashley Wegmann, who’s taught outside the Morgan County School System prior to being at MCHS, is also impressed with the facility.
“I’m blown away,” Wegmann said. “I’m excited about having all of these tools. I’ve never had six computers in my room before… I don’t know what else it could have. It has everything.”
The teachers are thankful even for the little things, like desks shaped to be grouped together for student collaboration in class, backpack hooks on the front of the new desks – which makes tripping over them avoidable – and even having their own copier in the building.
There has been a Freshman Academy in place at MCHS for some time. Studies have shown that “localizing” ninth graders in a space together during their first year of high school eases the transition, MCHS Principal Jim Malanowski said. The new building just helps to cement the concept.
“They’re around their own peers,” Bell said. “It helps with the transition and focus, what freshmen year is all about.”
“It establishes a sense of pride,” Wegmann said.
The school will open the new building to the public before or right after school starts, Principal Jim Malanowski said. They’re waiting on landscaping to be complete, computers to be set up and teachers to finish moving in.