Students at Shiloh Hills Elementary were extremely excited to be back at school for a dedication ceremony Tuesday, even if it was just for the night. After all, they’d been attending classes at the old Northwood Middle School, dubbed Camp Shiloh, for more than a year.
It looked as if every student and parent was there lined up at the door waiting to get in, cheering when the doors finally opened. It took 12 minutes for everyone to file inside. Principal Laura Duchow said she’s happy the school is finished.
“It was a complete renovation,” Duchow said. “They took it down to the rafters and the support beams. At one point you could drive a pickup all the way through the building.”
The work done at Shiloh Hills is nearly identical to the work done at Midway Elementary. Three classrooms in the center were removed and five new classrooms were added to the ends of the wings. A new multipurpose room and cafeteria was added adjacent to the gym, which boasts a shiny new floor.
The students walking through the building seemed particularly excited to see the new cafeteria, which includes huge windows overlooking the play fields outside.
“We had a cafeteria, but it was too small to use effectively,” Duchow said. “The kids had to eat in their classrooms.”
Even though the school is larger it is still bursting at the seams until the sixth-graders move to middle school in the 2020-21 school year. “We are fully at capacity even with the new classrooms,” Duchow said.
It was difficult for the students to be displaced for so long, Duchow said, and there were additional challenges to having elementary students in an old middle school, such as kindergarteners struggling to use drinking fountains designed for much taller seventh-graders. “It was rugged,” Duchow said.
Even with the difficulties, Duchow said she’s glad the students didn’t have to stay in the building during construction like the Midway students did.
“We got to go to a different place and not hear jackhammers,” she said.
The building was completed Aug. 22, leaving little time for teachers to set their classrooms up. Things looked neat and tidy Tuesday, but there were some unpacked boxes lurking in closets and the new library, located where the old cafeteria used to be, wasn’t open.
There have been a few hiccups along the way, Duchow said. “One sixth-grade teacher got preschool chairs,” she said. “We’re working on it.”
Ned Wendle, executive director of facilities and planning for the Mead School District, said it’s gratifying to see the remodeled Midway and Shiloh Hills schools coming online, both funded by a $69.5 million construction bond approved by voters in 2015.
Wendle is also overseeing construction projects funded by a $114 million construction bond approved in February, including new middle and elementary schools, transportation maintenance facilities and performing arts and athletics venue.
“It’s like drinking from a fire hose,” Wendle said. “We have $100 million in projects on the ground now.”
During the dedication event, Shiloh Hills students also found out who their teachers would be and many stopped by their new teacher’s classroom to take a look around. Sixth-grade teacher Scott Huffman seemed to recognize every student who came in his door, calling them by name, chatting about what they did over the summer and cracking jokes to put them at ease.
Huffman said when he was at Camp Shiloh he taught in a portable classroom. “It’s really nice,” he said of the new school. “Beautiful.”
Aesthetics aside, Huffman said everyone is just happy to be back. “The best thing is we’re back in our home community and people can walk here,” he said.
Parent Jaime Garcia brought her fourth-grade son, Jay Garcia, to the school Tuesday to take a look around. She said the old Northwood Middle School was far away and she likes having her son back in the neighborhood. “It was really inconvenient,” she said.
Jay Garcia seemed excited about his new school but a little overwhelmed. “I think it’s awesome, but it’s a little too big,” he said. “It’s really easy to get lost in.”
But he also remembers that going to Northwood for more than a year was overwhelming at first, too. “I started learning the ropes but it became a good school,” he said.
He particularly likes the new cafeteria. “I think it’s way more better,” he said. “It’s bigger. It’s generally a good school.”
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