By Sue Botos
There was more greeting Rocky River High School students returning to class last week than new schedules and different teachers. Renovation projects, supported by a $42.9 million bond issue passed by voters in 2010, were in high gear all summer – and while there is still work to be done in many areas, including a new commons, sparkling new music and science wings were ready and waiting.
One of the first things a visitor notices when entering the music wing is that it embraces the past – literally.
“School board member Dr. Jon Fancher suggested that we keep the old outside wall. It gives a flavor of where we came from,” said human resources and support services Director Sam Gifford as he led a recent media tour of the building. The rounded, brick wall, long a school icon, now serves as a backdrop to the band room, which echoes the curve in its new outer wall.
As Gifford looked around the room on this day before the start of school, he credited round-the-clock work to get the building ready for students. “Just yesterday, the room was stacked wall to wall with equipment. Since last Friday, you wouldn’t believe the difference,” he said.
New vocal music teacher Allison Paetz, who was busy setting up her neighboring choir room, added her enthusiasm. “This is absolutely spectacular. I told my principal (Debra Bernard) I’m the luckiest new teacher in the state.”
Space and light are also major components of the building, as Gifford pointed out a large hallway and door facing Detroit Road, which will allow music equipment, such as for the marching band, to be loaded directly onto a truck. He said that most entrances to the school will have a different look when the present Wagar Road door is removed, and the door nearer to the gym becomes the main student entrance.
Gifford added that the Detroit Road door will again become the main visitor entrance, with all other doors locked during the school day.
Work remains to be done in the commons area, but Gifford said it will be open to students, beginning with seniors, for lunch. An outside eating area, yet to be landscaped, will be another option. Gifford said the old incinerator smokestack, long a Rocky River landmark, will eventually be torn down for safety reasons.
Globe-shaped lighting fixtures highlight the commons, and Gifford said other planned features include artwork such as a glass sail and a digital wall mural of a Metroparks scene.
Light pours through windows overlooking the science courtyard, which will eventually be used for outdoor class and experiment space, as well as a wildlife refuge. Noting that the building and courtyards will be Wi-Fi-equipped, he said that students will be encouraged to BYOD, or “Bring Your Own Device,” such as laptops and iPads.
“The students will be able to find answers, research and collaborate with their peers,” commented Gifford.
Science teacher Daryl Knauss expressed his satisfaction that teachers were a part of the planning process. “We were asked our opinion, and everyone was very receptive. We got everything we asked for,” he stated.
Gifford noted features such as two-way Smart Boards and specialized vents in the chemistry room, adding that such features are not frivolous. “Our students will be exposed to this at the next level (college), and we want them to be prepared,” he said.
In the remodeled locker room area, “Inspiration Hallway” will display photos of past star athletes. Coaches’ offices are the hub around which the locker rooms will be arranged. A spacious training room separates the boys’ and girls’ facilities. Gifford also noted that the pool area and gym will begin renovation after basketball season.
One of the biggest challenges for the upcoming year, according to Gifford, will be the use of “swing space” – former science rooms serving as temporary classrooms. “It will be like a shell game,” he said of the process where classes will occupy the rooms for a few months, then move to their permanent quarters as they are completed.
“It’s a challenge living in a construction site,” commented Gifford of the project that began in May 2011 and should wrap up during the 2014-2015 school year. “It was tough getting to this point, but everyone put forth an effort and no one complained.”