A brand new year brings a brand new school for students at Boone High School.
Moving was already underway in early December, with boxes of everything from “permanent records” to hall passes being carted into the new facility, which is still in the final stages of finish work.
Students, in between final exams and getting ready for break, were expected to move into their new lockers before leaving for Christmas. These days, as parents of teenagers well know, that takes a little work as interior locker design and organization has become an art worthy of Martha Stewart.
And by the time school opens again in January, the new Boone High School will be ready to welcome students back into the brand new quarters.
For some, it’s been a long time coming.
Seniors Cole Hilsabeck and Sierra Leeds have been waiting for at least 12 years. And while they will get to finish only the last half of their final year in the new building, they say it’s a new building worth the wait.
“It’s going to be exciting coming to school in a new building like this,” says Hilsabeck. “You really want to learn when you’re in a place like this.”
Fortunately, Hilsabeck has enjoyed a strong desire to learn throughout his years in Boone, spurred on by a caring staff and extracurriculars that keep him involved throughout the year. Hilsabeck is a student council member and peer helper who looks forward to attending DMACC in the fall, hoping to eventually become a law enforcement officer.
A new building, he says, will only aid in the learning process for future classes.
“This building is old, and it’s just not cutting it anymore,” he adds.
Leeds agrees wholeheartedly, and is quick to pinpoint a few of the deficiencies that create a less than conducive environment for learning.
“Definitely, the old school has been falling apart,” she says. “It’s really not suited for today. There’s so much temperature change… and there are some smells sometimes.”
Active in orchestra, National Honor Society and student council, Leeds plans to attend Iowa State University in the fall, majoring in pre-law. The new school, Leeds says, will give the community really something of which to be proud.
“I’m looking forward to all of it,” she says. “Every classroom is great.”
Boone High School Principal, Dr. Ben Johnson, voices his agreement and appreciation for the community which made the $20 million project possible.
“This was financed with a bond issue approved by the community with an overwhelming 81 percent of the vote,” says Johnson. “We are gratified by that support. And I believe it really shows that the community has a vested interest in the school and wants to be supportive.”
Johnson noted that he joined the district just 18 months ago and has heard the stories of struggles with bond issues in the past. He’s even heard stories of efforts to build an entirely new facility on the outskirts of the community, closer to the rapidly growing Highway 30 corridor. But he sees a real wisdom in keeping the school in the central part of the community, and thereby respecting the school’s — as well as the community’s —history.
“I really do believe that a community that has a school at the center of it — especially a high school — tends to take more ownership in the school,” he explains. “That’s especially true in a mid-size town such as Boone. This will really keep the high school at the heart of a lot of activity at different times of the year.”
Johnson also notes that the project is a blend of new construction and repurposing of existing infrastructure. While the east academic wing opening in January is the heart of the project, much work still remains to be done over the next 18 months. Sections of the building built in 1914 and 1924 will be demolished once they are vacated. That will allow for continued work in those areas, once they come down. Renovations to existing areas will be complete by the fall of 2015. A new cafeteria and commons area is among the work yet to be done.
The 1986 building, which includes the current music hallway, gym and science rooms, will be converted to new uses. For a better look at how the old and new will eventually blend, the public is invited to an open house of the new building and final tour of the old building on Saturday, Jan. 11.
“One of the nice things about this project is that it was more affordable to keep some of our existing areas,” Johnson adds.
The open house will even include an auction for those who wish to keep a piece of nostalgia from the oldest parts of the building. Expect to see goods such as book shelves, desks, and even old lab equipment on the public auction.
To Johnson, it’s important to note that the new building is not only that — a building. It’s a new dedication to provide a learning opportunity that better prepares students for the future. He envisions a place that creates a more collaborative environment for both teachers and students, as first envisioned by Superintendent Dr. Brad Manard and school board members.
“I was charged by Dr. Manard, as well as the board, that it’s not just bricks and mortar, but that it really be a new educational experience,” Johnson says. “We want our students in Boone to have a 21st Century school experience inside the walls. It’s nice to have new bricks and mortar, but we want to make sure that what’s going on inside the building is just as exciting and engaging as the newness of the facility. We want kids to wake up every day excited to come to school.”
The 23 new classrooms and four new science labs opening in January will be outfitted for today’s technology. Every inch of the new space is wi-fi enabled; computers and other devices can connect to the Internet without hookups. What the new space won’t have is a single student desk.
“All the rooms are being outfitted with tables,” Johnson says. “There are no desks. And that’s because you can do the same things at a table that you can do at a desk, but you can’t do all the same things at a desk that you can do at a table.”
It may seem like a small change, but the goal is to make it a significant stride in creating a new atmosphere of learning. To Johnson, it’s a more Socratic environment that lends itself to real give and take in the classroom, and hopefully more thoughtful contributions on the part of students.
Freshman Mitch Stumbo is part of the final class to experience the oldest sections of the building, and that’s just fine with him. Coming to the existing facility from the new middle school definitely has had an impact on students.
“You can go into one room and be freezing and you have to put a sweatshirt on, then you go to the next class and you’re hot,” he says.
As for the quality of the environment, there’s no comparison between the old high school and the new middle school. He’s eager to enjoy the same quality learning environment in the new high school facility.
Junior Paul Solomon echoes that sentiment.
“I think the new science rooms are going to be one of the best parts,” he says. “My AP (advanced placement) chemistry class right now, we’re just in a normal classroom; we don’t even have a lab. To have tables and normal lab equipment is going to be great.”
Sophomore Bridget Good sees nothing but good in the new facility.
“It’s going to be a lot more well organized, easier to get to classes,” she says. “And the rooms are brighter, so it’s going to be a lot more enjoyable to learn in.”
As for Johnson, while it’s been an incredibly busy start to his own career in Boone, it’s also been one that’s incredibly rewarding. And for that, he is most grateful to the community that made it possible. He shares that gratitude with the students and encourages them to reach out and express their own appreciation for this investment in the future.
“We talked about that at an assembly; say thank you to your neighbors, say thank you to your community because this community is giving you a $20 million learning environment,” he says.
As for faculty, they may be the most eager of all. Jeff Wells has taught math in Boone for 36 years and has seen the highs and lows along the way.
“Education has changed, and it’s not just technology, but the strategies have changed,” he says.
The new facility, Wells maintains, addresses those new strategies and new philosophy for education.
“The space is going to be great,” he says. “We already have a great school, and this is just going to enhance what’s already here.”