Horizon Middle School was completely gutted and remodeled, opening as scheduled at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. But with a global pandemic in full swing, almost no one was there to see the newly finished building, and the district wasn’t able to host its usual open house to show it off to the community.
That changed last week, when seventh- and eighth-grade students began returning to the classroom in small groups. Sixth-graders began attending classes in person in mid-January.
There were some students who got to roam the nearly empty halls back in September. “We had 30, 40 kids the first day of school, some special education students, from day one,” said Principal Josh Wolcott. “It was ready to go.”
The school has been transformed. Gone are the large earthen berms on the south side of the building that made the building resemble a bunker. Walls of windows now bring natural light into nearly every part of the building, even the gymnasiums. Photos from local photographer Craig Goodwin are featured in larger-than-life size in each of the stairwells.
“The new building is just awesome,” Wolcott said. “Every room has that natural daylight. An updated HVAC certainly adds to the comfort. It’s transformed. It’s totally different. I just like that it feels comfortable for staff. It’s modern. It’s fresh.”
Construction on the 1982 school began in April 2019, with the $29.5 million price tag being covered by a construction bond approved by voters in early 2018. The plan was to have students attend classes at the old University High School on Ninth Avenue, dubbed Horizon North, while construction was underway. But the pandemic interfered, forcing students to learn virtually for months.
There were some cosmetic issues with the school before it was remodeled, but there were also serious problems with the roof and the HVAC system. The remodel also allowed the district to do significant security upgrades.
“We did expand a little bit,” Wolcott said. “Not a lot, but we did add some square footage. We were able to get more capacity for students.”
The additional 8,700 square feet will allow the school to enroll 600 students instead of 482. Right now that extra space is key because it allows the school to accommodate COVID-19 distancing requirements, Wolcott said.
Some of that extra square footage went to the library, which now has a variety of seating, a classroom space and a maker space. Librarian Martha Bayle loves the new library and is eagerly waiting to be able to take full advantage of it when COVID-19 restrictions lessen. “We’re tickled about the seating, the lighting, the flow,” she said. “This is so much bigger than it was before.”
Wolcott said he likes that the main office is right next to the new main entrance on the south side of the school.
“It used to be in the middle of the school with no windows,” he said. “It feels more welcoming. You couldn’t find the front door at the old Horizon.”
Horizon is the only middle school in the Central Valley School District to have a shop.
“We had a shop before, but it’s updated with new equipment and tables,” he said.
Some parts of the school still aren’t being used because of COVID-19 restrictions, including the locker rooms. Many of the band instrument lockers are empty because certain wind instruments can’t be played. The cafeteria isn’t cooking hot food and makes brown bag lunches for students.
But the students are now coming back. “Our sixth-graders are all here every day,” said Wolcott. “We created classes that were smaller than the seventh- and eighth-grade classes.”
The seventh- and eighth-grade students are divided into four groups – A, B, C and D – and each attends school one day a week. “If everything goes well, we’ll be A and B as of March 1,” Wolcott said.
Wolcott said Horizon’s students and teachers are a “phenomenally resilient group” who have taken everything in stride.
“It’s just great to have kids here,” he said. “We have a lot of emotions having the kids back, but having the new building just adds to it.”
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