By Kevin Kelley
Despite rumors to the contrary, the new Westlake High School is still scheduled to open to students Sept. 4, Superintendent Dan Keenan said. High school students will be required to attend orientation sessions Sept. 3. Teachers will be given access to their classrooms to make preparations for the school year Aug. 28, or perhaps a day or two earlier, Keenan said.
Westlake City Schools applied for and received three waiver days from the Ohio Department of Education to conduct staff training sessions. In July, the Board of Education formally adjusted the school calendar to add the waiver days, on which students will not attend classes. One of those three waiver days will be Sept. 3, the day on which the school year was originally set to begin. The other waiver/teacher training days will be on Jan. 6 and Feb. 14. The waivers days were not sought to provide more time for the move to the new building, Keenan said.
But beyond that one-day extension of summer vacation for students, no further delays are anticipated.
Rumors to the contrary have been flying around Westlake nonetheless. One that reached West Life last week had the start of school being delayed until Sept. 13. Another false rumor has Westlake high school students attending schools in nearby districts at the start of the school year. In addition, an announcement on the district website that the formal dedication ceremony for the new building will take place Sept. 21 was taken to mean that the school will not be open until that date.
None of those rumors are true, the superintendent said. A dedication ceremony will take place Sept. 21, two and a half weeks after the start of school.
The dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony for the new high school will take place in the building’s new gymnasium at 10 a.m. Sept. 21. An open house will follow until noon. A time capsule ceremony will take place at the high school the following day at noon, with another open house running until 3 p.m.
Although the rumors of a delayed opening are not true, Keenan said there’s not a great deal of leeway in the district’s timetable for moving into the building.
“We’re on a pretty tight schedule,” the superintendent acknowledged, adding that has always been the case since the start of construction. Keenan said he received updates every day on the final stages of construction.
Should there be an unexpected, last-minute delay in readying the building, the district could make use of its calamity days, also known as snow days, to postpone the start of classes at the high school, Keenan said. He added that he did not believe such action would be necessary.
If there is any delay, the district would use its alert system, consisting of e-mail and phone notifications to parents, Keenan said. Parents should also check the district’s website for updates before believing any rumors they hear, the superintendent advised.
Keenan said he will not be surprised if there are some issues, such as Internet connections being down in sections of the building, at the start of the school year.
The superintendent praised Westlake city officials, especially in the fire, planning and building departments, for taking the necessary time to provide guidance on requirements for occupancy and other permits.
A source of concern during construction has been the rotunda that will serve as the main entrance to the new high school. During construction, a contractor alerted the district that circular metal rings might torque. In fact, a minor amount of torquing had occurred, said Dave Puffer, the district’s construction manager.
There was never any concern that the rotunda was in danger of collapsing, Keenan said. But cracking and sagging problems might take place over many years if the problem was not addressed, he said.
The district ordered a redesign of the rotunda that included the addition of numerous steel reinforcements, brackets on all supports and more masonry for added strength, Keenan said. A third party engineering firm hired by the district reviewed and approved the redesign, he added.
While the high school project is on budget, the district will seek to recover extra costs associated with the rotunda redesign, Keenan said.
The rotunda, which will serve as the new building’s cafeteria, is scheduled to be completed Aug. 25, Keenan said. If it is not available by the start of school, Keenan’s backup plan is to have the students eat in the high school’s auxiliary gymnasium.
The issues with the rotunda forced the district to make adjustments to the construction schedule, such as having contractors work 10-hour days and on Saturdays, in order to finish the building on time, the superintendent said.