Bainbridge High School welcomes its newest wing

Bainbridge High School students got their first look at the new 200 Building this week. A public open house for the building is scheduled for Jan. 10. It begins with a program in the new commons at 1:30 p.m., followed by self-guided tours. Photos by Brad Camp.

Big. Bright. Clean. The words were repeated over and over as students settled into the newly completed 200 Building this week.

“Whether it’s been students or teachers or visiting parents the reaction has been positive,” BHS Principal Brent Peterson said. “They like the light, they like the openness.”

Everywhere in the 70,000-square-foot wing, banks of windows let natural light pour in on the smooth concrete walls and hardwood floors.

“It doesn’t even look like a school,” senior Paige Farwell remarked. “It looks like a really nice office building.”

Students had to wait until Monday for their first look inside the building.

Staff began shuffling materials late December, but two snow days leading up to the break put plans for a student open house on ice. Snow returned Monday, delaying the start of classes at BHS by two hours.

When students finally streamed through the doors of the new building, they were welcomed into by the new high-ceiling lobby on the building’s east end, lit by two walls of windows.

To the west, a long hall extends from the lobby to the new library. A broad staircase takes students to the second floor, where classrooms and technology labs line both sides of a long corridor.

At the western end of the building, the central corridor lead into the new commons, where coliseum-style steps cascade down to another floor. The 500-seat commons serves as a lunchroom and gathering center for the campus.

As students poured into the commons for Tuesday’s lunch, seniors filled a special section of tables at the top of the coliseum steps. Underclassmen spread out among the tables below.

At a table in the upper level, Kathleen Callahan, Paige Farwell, Cheyenne Fredrichs, Molly Kudtz and Kevin Hope were settled comfortably into the “senior section.”

They were impressed by the large classrooms and how large clean the building was. Fredrichs said she was especially impressed by overwhelming amount of natural light.

At a table on the main floor, juniors Ryan Hunt said the new commons was Hollywood worthy.

“It looks like a ‘High School Musical’ commons,” Hunt said. “I’m not even kidding,”

For administrative staff, along with math, foreign language and technology teachers who settled into the 200 Building this week, a dose of relief was mixed with excitement.

Eighteen classrooms were displaced when the old 200 Building was demolished in the summer of 2007. Temporary spaces were improvised throughout the campus, tucked away in the Commodore Center and portable buildings.

Chain-link fencing walled off much of a large section of the school grounds around the construction site. The new building was originally scheduled to open for the first day of school this year, but the date was steadily pushed back by weather and materials shortages.

“It was a little frustrating, but we just had to concentrate on the end,” said Beatriz Fuentes, director of the school’s Foreign Language Department.

After a one and a half school years spent scattered in temporary rooms, many teachers were simply looking forward to reclaiming a long-term space as the new building opened. What they got was much more.

The 200 Building’s classrooms are roughly 930 square feet, each with a row of windows facing outside to let natural light filter in, while another wide set of windows face the corridor.

“It’s fabulous,” Fuentes said. “I just love all the light.”

The classrooms have been re-equipped down to new desks and chairs.

Uniquely, levy-funded technology equipment was built into the 200 Building rooms. Teachers this week were experimenting with the projectors, SMART Board digital white boards and document cameras, some for the first time.

“You’re talking to the last holdout,” said Dan McLean, head of the Mathematics Department. “I’ve been here 29 years and never used anything but chalk, so it’s all new to me.”

In a classroom equipped with tools for displaying tasks and sharing student work, McLean said his conversion to tech-savvy teaching has already begun.

“I’m on my way,” he said. “My students keep asking me where my chalk board is.”

But more important than the spacious classrooms and technology, McClean said, is the fact that teachers in his department have neighboring rooms for the first time in 20 years.

“We pride ourselves on sharing,” he said. “Now we can literally see into each other’s classrooms.”

In fact, the large windows mean anyone passing in the hallway can see into classrooms and students have a clear view of hallway happenings. It’s one element of the building that students and teachers will need time to adjust to.

“Some liked it instantly, some are waiting on it,” Peterson said. “In fairness, that’s a piece that’s totally new to everyone,”

Transparency and open spaces were parts of a modern design meant to foster a community feel, healthy learning spaces and environmental awareness, Peterson said. Natural light and ventilation systems airflow were incorporated to enhance the learning environment inside and save energy.

Other green elements include occupancy sensors that dim lights when rooms are empty. Outside, rain gardens have been planted on the grounds and on rooftops to help collect storm runoff. The building itself is made of mostly recycled materials.

“I feel really good that we stayed focused on these goals through the entire design process,” Peterson said.

The construction process on the 200 Building isn’t over yet, said School District Capital Facilities Director Tamela VanWinkle, who is overseeing the project. Crews are still finishing a bus entrance and parking area west of the building.

The school district is already hoping to carry momentum from the 200 Building into its next planned phase of construction.

The $23 million project, which VanWinkle believes is the largest public installation in island history, was funded by a $45 million capital improvement bond passed by voters in 2005.

The school board is now targeting May 2009 for a new bond proposal, which would rebuild Wilkes Elementary.

VanWinkle said she hoped a community open house scheduled for Saturday would be a chance to thank the crews who worked on the building and the community.

“I absolutely believe this is an opportunity to demonstrate that contemporary facilities support and enhance education,” she said. “I say it a lot, but it’s my passionate belief.”

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