It’s no wonder walking into South Lakes High School mandates the use of a hard hat.
Hess Construction, the company hired to complete the school’s $48.2 million renovations, has more than a few corners to sweep before school starts on Sept. 5. When construction is finished in mid-2008, the county will have spent nearly $62 million, which includes both design and construction costs, to renovate the 27-year-old school.
Construction pushed forward at full speed this past summer. But as school draws closer, the company has shifted gears to have the school ready for returning students.
“This is open for business in three and a half weeks,” said Principal Bruce Butler as he walked through the school, pointing to ongoing construction all around him. “Right now, it’s really dirty.”
Like any construction area, dust hangs heavy in the air. Wires and plumbing are exposed. Down below, earth-moving machines cut off from the sun dig dirt out to make way for what will be part of the two lower subschools and their corresponding classrooms.
BUT DESPITE WHAT will be another year full of inconvenient and ever-changing accommodations for students, Butler smiles, beaming with a look of excitement.
“Look at it this way. When this is done, there will be an additional amount of space to comfortably house another 500 students,” said Butler, who is entering his sophomore year as the school’s principal.
On the north side of the school, Butler points to the new activities office, which will be ready when school opens. A new lecture hall, built where the green cafeteria used to be, is also ready for action.
But what makes Butler most excited this year are the two, nearly-completed upper subschools, which include brand new lockers and several adjacent classrooms with windows.
“It opens up that boxy feel it had before,” said Butler of all the new windows, joking that teachers may lobby for the luxurious classrooms with a view. Before renovations, South Lakes had virtually no classrooms with windows.
“I think everyone is excited about having windows,” said Hill Montague, president of the school’s PTSA. “The original architecture was pretty atrocious. The renovations will bring light to the school.”
SENIORS AND FRESHMAN will enjoy the renovated subschools this year. “Seniors will get a new subschool because they’re seniors, and freshmen because they’re new,” said Butler.
Twenty-nine trailers will be used for instruction this year. Another five will help house administrators.
But like last year, Butler is optimistic that distractions can be kept to a minimum. “The kids really adapt quickly to these changes,” said Butler.
Others at the school have noticed the same trend. “The kids have been really good about it,” said Lindsay Trout, assistant director of student activities.
When the renovations are finished, the school will go from three conference rooms to 21 and from 320,000 square feet to 339,000 square feet.
Butler credited Director of Student Services Shannon Tully with successfully managing the logistics of moving students and faculty the past year and a half. Tully is beginning her sixth year at South Lakes.
He also said the school’s design team, led by social studies teacher Wynn Thompson, have “come up with an aesthetic that is very exciting and classy,” much of which will debut in the fall. For example, the team helped decide the new locker colors, designs for colored tile patterns and the style and make of office furniture.
EVEN THOUGH change abounds, administrators and faculty members remain focused on strengthening the school’s instructional curriculum, according to Butler, who hired 14 teachers over the summer.
“I want learning to be what we’re recognized for,” said Butler. “Kids that attend South Lakes learn a lot about English, science, math, foreign languages, and the rest of our curriculum. They also learn a great deal about diversity. And they learn a lot about community service.”
In the past few years, the emphasis has paid off with rising student test scores.
Three years ago, black and Hispanics at South Lakes did not meet federally-mandated adequate yearly progress requirements in math and science. Two years ago under then Principal Realista Rodriguez’s leadership, South Lakes met AYP in all categories.
Butler is still waiting on last year’s results, which are usually released during the first month of school. “Our preliminary data looks promising,” said Butler.
He points out students continue to excel on the International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement exams. “Preliminary data shows 81 percent of all the tests our students took, they passed,” said Butler.