$5 million upgrade to aging building done in time for start of classes
On the last day of school in June, students at Cedar Grove-Belgium Middle School picked up their desks or chairs and moved them into the gym so demolition and
construction could begin that afternoon on a $5 million renovation.Seventh-grade English teacher Mary Anne Rodgers sat in one of two chairs for independent readers in her new spacious classroom. Her previous classroom wasn’t large enough for the chairs. Photo by Sam Arendt
When 370 students — 20 more than last year — start classes Thursday, Sept. 1, they will find a sparkling facility and larger classrooms filled with natural light from
windows that actually open in the climate-controlled building. No longer will they freeze in one room and swelter in another on the same day.
They will find shorter lockers so even fifth-graders can reach the top shelf with combination locks and doors that open easier, labs with sinks and gas burners that
work, two new computer labs in the otherwise smaller library and a commons area that seems larger.
The ceiling was raised two feet in the commons that serves as a study hall, cafeteria and gathering space for the auditorium and gym. A new color scheme — green
and terra cotta — flows through the hallways.
The one-story structure, which was built in 1970 as a high school, has been a middle school for fifth through eighth grades for more than 10 years, but not much was
done to accommodate younger students — until now.
All interior non-weight-bearing walls were removed for the new design. Each classroom is now at least 900 square feet. The rooms were 730 square feet with almost
no room between desks. Two classrooms, one a computer lab, were added at the northwest and northeast ends of the building.
The grades are grouped together with seventh and eighth graders on the west side and fifth and sixth graders on the east side.
“We’re very excited,” said Middle School Principal Jeanne Courneene. “It’s much more suitable for a middle school.”
Teachers got the first look at their new classrooms when they returned last week and were busy Tuesday getting organized amid the dust and noise of last-minute
finishing touches, including installation of WiFi throughout the building.
The natural light, larger rooms and spacious storage cabinets were the features most mentioned by teachers.
Mary Anne Rodgers, seventh-grade English teacher, set up two bright blue padded chairs for independent reading and arranged books and other materials in the
“I can take these home,” Rodgers said of the empty crates stacked nearby. “It’s so organized now. I won’t have to rummage through all the boxes and crates to find
what I want.”
The natural light is great, she said, but even better is the added space since more desks are needed this year.
“We have the biggest class (100 seventh graders) coming in this year that I’ve ever had, and I’ll still have space to work with them at tables in groups,” Rodgers said.
The blue chairs, a reward for those who want to read more, couldn’t be used the past two years because there wasn’t enough room, she said.
Brandon Langer, seventh-grade math teacher, commented, “It’s the simple things in life — windows that open, room to walk between desks.”
“It makes it fun to come to school when it’s all so new and fresh,” said Gail Gonwa, eighth-grade English teacher. “I love the openness and how bright it is.”
The first thing visitors will notice is that they must go through a side door in the foyer to reach the office and obtain a visitor pass before entering the school — a
safety feature that was sorely needed when the office was in the center of the building, Courneene noted.
In addition, doors can be closed and locked to all hallways to prevent people from wandering the halls or in case of an emergency.
The former interior office area has been converted to four science laboratories — one for each grade — with a common storage and planning area in the center for
teachers. These are the only rooms without windows.
For the first time in four years, special education students should have their own room for several years.
Nikki Keesling, who teaches students with exceptional educational needs, said she’s been in four different rooms in four years.
There are new rest rooms on the north and south ends of the building and new locker rooms for gym and swim.
A new traffic pattern will likely have people confused for a while.
The driveway off Union Avenue will no longer be a thoroughfare connecting all three buildings, which had been a safety hazard for students or anyone walking in the
area when school was starting or ending.
Two sets of barriers were installed this week between the elementary and middle schools to stop through traffic and provide a safe walkway to practice fields. Only
school buses and staff vehicles will be allowed in the elementary parking lot during school hours.
Parking for all schools must be accessed from Rocket Drive off Main Street north of Union Avenue.