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BHS science classrooms first to see upgrades this summer

Architects JoAnn Wilcox (left) and Butch Reifert, along with district capital projects director Tamela VanWinkle, review plans for new science rooms at Bainbridge High School.  - Julie Busch photo
Architects JoAnn Wilcox (left) and Butch Reifert, along with district capital projects director Tamela VanWinkle, review plans for new science rooms at Bainbridge High School.
— image credit: Julie Busch photo

The $1.76 million project heralds much larger changes coming to the campus.

Fetal pigs in formaldehyde are hard to forget.

For queasy teens, memories are irrevocably etched the moment scalpel meets skin, turning the prenatal porkers, unfortunate frogs or oozing eyeballs into enduring symbols of science education.

But science classes today require more than a titanium stomach. Dissections by scalpel still occur, but laptops now are equally vital instruments.

Educators say technology and versatile workspaces form the core of the modern science classroom, and as the discipline changes, so must the antiquated facilities that continue to spawn so many teenage nightmares.

“There are two main issues driving the need for better science facilities,” said BHS principal Brent Peterson. “First, our current lab science space is inadequate. Second is the changing nature of science education.”

Ergo, new science rooms in the 300 building, replete with updated mechanical and plumbing fixtures and more space, will usher in the first phase of renovations at Bainbridge High School.

The $1.76 million project will convert four classrooms in the 300 building, currently used mostly for math classes, into three 1,400-square-foot science rooms. Each room now is 900 square feet.

The 300 building was built in 1981 and the north half was renovated in 1999.

After the project is completed, all the school’s science rooms will be located in the same building, something Peterson said will ease communication and collaboration among faculty.

Sinks in the new rooms will be located along the walls to make way for new moveable workstations that will allow for greater flexibility as needs change.

Construction begins Monday and should be done by Aug. 25, just in time for the start of the next school year.

Voters passed a $45 million bond in March to pay for building improvements at the school, currently home to 1,500 students. The school was designed to accommodate 900 students.

A proposed design for the rest of the school – including the new 200 building, which will house classroom space, student services, the new library, commons and administrative offices – will be presented to the school board on June 29.

In addition to the bond, a $6.1 million voter-approved levy along with private donations will bring in new computers, an expensive scanning electron microscope and other science equipment to augment the new rooms.

But the most important and obvious benefit of the project is the addition of much-needed space.

“What we had before was woefully inadequate,” said Tamela VanWinkle, capital projects director for the district, saying that one previous science class was actually held in a converted language arts room.

Peterson and the rest of the staff expect the changes to benefit the school well into the future, and as they await their new digs, science teachers at the school are aglow.

Korrie Beemer, who attended BHS as a student and has taught biology there for the past eight years, has already glimpsed at the future.

“I’ve been fortunate to get some equipment from donors that a lot of other teachers don’t have,” she said. “It’s amazing how much high school science has changed.”

Among Beemer’s gadgetry is a “Smart Board,” an interactive tool that combines a traditional whiteboard with a computer. The product, she said, allows her to teach students in ways not previously possible.

For example, during a dissection, Beemer can mount a camera above a specimen and display the image on the whiteboard so students can see what she’s doing.

“It allows me to actually show them where to make an incision, or what spots to be careful not to cut,” she said.

She can even write or circle over images digitally to illustrate her lesson points, much like a sports analyst on a game telecast, and print them or post them online for students to include in their notes.

Because Beemer has a classroom in the portion of the 300 building that was already remodeled, she won’t be moving, but will benefit from the new computers.

She said most of her classes have about 30 students. According to Peterson, the school hopes to pare science classes down to 26 to 28 students following the renovation.

“Students are taking a lot more science classes than they used to, which is exciting,” Peterson said, adding that the renovation will finally allow them to accommodate those students comfortably.

He said most BHS students take at least three years of science, though only two years are required.

Part of that is attributable to a greater variety of available classes, including a forensic science class, for which the new scanning electronic microscope will be purchased through a private donation.

The technology levy will also allow the school to provide one computer for every two students, a soon-to-be abundance that was once as tangible as science-fiction.

Peterson and architect Butch Reifert said the design team worked with faculty to determine their needs, and were delighted to reach such an overwhelming consensus about what the final product should look like.

“Ideally, we’d be starting with a blank slate and a clean piece of dirt,” Peterson said. “But we found as the design unfolded that we had to compromise almost nothing.

“Our hope is to have the optimal science learning environment. This will give us the space to realize the program we’ve been visualizing.”

VanWinkle said the community deserves the bulk of the credit.

“We just want to thank people for supporting education,” she said. “This will be a great jump start to the major work that’s still to come.”

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