It takes a village to educate a child these days in Freeman – a village of portable classroom buildings, all lined up atop a small hill near the elementary school, surrounded by new sidewalks and gravel paths.
A long-awaited high school remodeling project is beginning, which means every classroom had to be emptied. Last week students hauled chairs, desks, tables, trophies and anything else that could be carried across Jackson Road to their new portable digs. Larger items were loaded into pickup trucks.
The students didn’t help out with the move just because they provided free labor, said Superintendent Sergio Hernandez. “They will have ownership and feel part of the transition,” he said. “Some of these kids, they’ve been here since kindergarten.”
Levernier Construction had the lowest bid for the project at $12.8 million. The bid came in nearly $100,000 under budget and the excess will be set aside for any unexpected costs. It’s anticipated that students will have partial use of the remodeled building, mainly the gym and multipurpose room, by December. The entire project is expected to be complete by August 2010.
The process won’t be without pain. For the rest of the school year, high school students will have only cold sack lunches. With the loss of the high school cafeteria, the only cafeteria left in the school complex, which includes an elementary school and middle school, is in the elementary school. Next year high school students will be worked into the feeding rotation after the middle school students. “We’re going to hustle in as soon as they’re done,” said high school Principal Dave Smith. “That lunchroom is going to be busy.”
No physical education classes will be offered in the fall, just health. Sports will also present a challenge. Basketball games will be played at the Valley HUB. “We’re working with the middle school for our sports and athletics,” Smith said.
Other changes will be necessary to the home economics and science classes, which won’t have access to equipment. “We’ll make do,” said science teacher John Hays, who has been with the district for 25 years. “We’ll do some creative things. It’s not going to be an ideal situation. What will be an ideal situation is the year after.”
The science teachers helped design the three new specialized science labs that will replace the single lab available now. Hays is looking forward to teaching his physics, chemistry, biology and environmental science classes in a new lab. “It’ll be nice to have a science wing. We’re really excited about it.”
The remodeled school will get interior upgrades as well as a new gym and several new classrooms. The district also won a grant from the Department of Justice to add between 25 and 30 security cameras. Some cameras will be inside the building, but many will be focused on the exterior. “It’s fairly rural, so it’s fairly easy to come by here at night,” Hernandez said.
Smith said that there isn’t much going on inside the school to warrant cameras inside. “The kids don’t even lock their lockers,” he said.
The high school now has 15 classrooms, which are being replaced by 12 classrooms in six portable buildings by the high school and another two classrooms in a portable building down by the middle school tennis courts. The high school shop and one classroom behind the gym will be in use until Christmas. “We have kids all over the place,” Smith said.
The next two weeks of school will make clear what will have to be worked on for next year. It’s possible the time between periods might have to be lengthened as kids walk from one end of the complex to the other. “This is our test run,” he said. “There will be a million changes from now to next year.”
The students seem excited about the process and were even happy to carry furniture across the road. “If we all work together, it’ll be done faster,” said freshman Tori Burton, a fourth-generation Freeman student. “I think it’s going to be a new adventure for everyone to be in the portables. Once we get in the new school, we’ll appreciate it more.”
Senior Jerrid Jeske was happy to see the project finally under way, but sorry he won’t be around to see the finished product. “I wish it would have come a little sooner,” he said. Jeske won’t have the distinction of being part of the last senior class to graduate from the old school. That honor belongs to last year’s graduates. The construction is forcing this year’s ceremony to be held at the Valley Nazarene Church.
Freshman Katie Pintar confessed something about the moving process that no one else admitted. “I think it’s fun,” she said. “We don’t have to do any work in class for three days.”
She also counts herself fortunate to be a freshman. “We got one year in the old school, one year in the portables and two years in the new school. We got lucky.”
Hernandez said he was proud of the way the students and staff have been working together. “It’s been a tremendous team effort,” he said.