By Kevin Kelley
High school seniors, generally speaking, have the attitude that they are the big men and women on campus, and that they have progressed to the point where they know all the ins and outs of high school life.
But that was not the case with the Westlake High School class of 2014 on Sept. 4, the first day of classes at their newly built school.
“It feels like we’re freshmen again,” senior Katie Lyndrickson said. Instead of being looked up to as the all-knowing kings and queens of the student body, Lyndrickson and her fellow seniors were reduced to walking around with maps to find their classes.
“It feels like we’re on a field trip,” Alexis Carpenter said, another senior. She said she likes the new building, but added that it feels weird compared to the building at which they’ve spent the last three years. The teachers, she said, seemed to be excited about being in the new high school because they have a lot more space.
“I kind of get lost a lot,” said Jamie Pohlman, another senior. “All the rooms look the same.”
All the hallways looks the same, too. That’s because Principal Tim Freeman has banned the hanging of fliers, posters or any other signs that frequently adorned the hallways of the old high school. They’re banned at least until a substance can be found that attaches signs without harming the newly painted walls, Freeman said.
The result, senior Sydney Bell said, is that the building lacks the homey feel of the old school.
“It was chaotic trying to figure out where everything was,” she said.
Two fire drills – one scheduled by the administration and another, surprise drill called by the Westlake Fire Department – undoubtedly added to the chaos.
School administrators received the occupancy permit from the city the afternoon before the first day of school, Superintendent Dan Keenan said. The schedule to complete construction of the building had always been tight, he said. But a need to redesign and add construction elements to the building’s rotunda, and an act of vandalism the week before, made the schedule even tighter, he said.
Some evidence of the not entirely finished scramble to get the building ready for the first day of school was visible. Boxes with technology equipment still unpacked were stacked in computer labs. A set of restrooms in the athletic wing was closed the first day of school due to low water pressure. And students noted that the senior lounge was not finished.
Students were also without lockers the first several days of school. Some lockers that were ordered were not installed, leaving the school 45 lockers short, Freeman explained. In addition, the CDs the locker suppliers sent that was supposed to have the combinations were blank, the principal said. Freeman said he’s delaying the assignment of lockers for a week or so in order to do it correctly the first time. For the time being, textbooks are being kept in the classrooms instead of going home with students.
The cafeteria was open and serving two entrees the first day of classes; more meal options will be added later, Freeman said.
The footpath between the student parking lot and the main entrance is not paved but stone-covered. Construction company crews continue removing the rubble from the now-demolished former high school building. Freeman said the permanent driveways and sidewalks to the main entrance are scheduled to be completed in early November.
Freeman counseled students to exercise “patience and flexibility” while everyone gets settled in at the new building. During a P.A. announcement at the end of the first day of classes, he suggested that students getting picked up text their parents to tell them to take their time.
“Traffic will not be pretty,” the principal said.
Despite the minor difficulties, administrators seemed pleased with the way things went the first day.
“We’re pleased and excited to be open,” Freeman said. Students seemed generally excited to be in the new facility, he added.
Sept. 4 also was the first day of school at the newly constructed Lee Burneson Middle School. Construction of the new school buildings was funded through an $84 million bond issue that voters passed by a 55.4 to 44.6 margin in May 2010. The old middle school will be expanded as an intermediate school as part of the same project. Homeowners are paying an additional $8.68 per month for every $100,000 in home value for the construction program.