Northwestern junior high and senior high students will return to classes Monday to improved technology, security and natural light as the district opens its new combined building.
A pre-elementary/elementary school with a similar design and technology is expected to open in October.
The $51 million building project will have the feel of a campus rather than separate school buildings, Superintendent Tony Orr said. About 45 percent of the cost was picked up by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission.
“The only thing that separates the buildings is a swale, and I certainly anticipate over time we’ll landscape and try to put in some walking paths (and) some benches,” he said.
Contractors were wrapping up details last week in the Junior/Senior High School, and teachers were in classrooms setting up for the year.
Orr’s enthusiasm was evident as he pointed to designs like shared storage space for some classrooms, projector-driven smart boards in every classroom, wireless connectivity throughout, larger windows and other state-of-the-art amenities.
District officials purposefully sought a sloped-roof and ceiling design that allows for larger windows and more natural light to enter learning spaces.
“Research shows that with more natural day-lighting, academics improves and instruction improves,” Orr said.
It’s a departure from the flat roof design commonly seen on older school buildings.
And the district looked to use every inch of interior space.
“One of the things we’ve done, between the (junior and senior high school art) rooms, is we actually have a shared storage room and a shared kiln room, so we’re really trying to take advantage of the space,” he said.
Shared space was duplicated in other areas where applicable, like science rooms.
As for the building’s main entrance, officials sought to emphasize academics, with a Northwestern shield logo prominently emblazoned on the floor that reads the Latin “Scientia est lux lucis” — essentially “Knowledge is enlightenment.”
Students, staff and visitors are also greeted by large etched-glass panel depicting a warrior, the district’s mascot, donated by Dale and Belinda Paugh of Englewood.
And officials wanted the school’s media center, also known as the library, to be welcoming to students. “We’ve got to start thinking like kids,” he said.
He said several different types of seating was arranged in a “Panera Bread” approach.
“If we can bring kids into a library and make it welcoming, they’re going to read more,” he said.
All classrooms are equipped with projector-driven smart boards to enhance hands-on learning through technology, and some feature connectivity with tablet computers, Orr said.
Northwestern was able to negotiate a deal to install the smart boards in all classrooms, despite a limit on the number of smart boards the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission allows, he said.
“All the kids have to do is they’ll come over (to the smart board), they’ll take a stylus, and they’ll be able to move objects right directly on here, show YouTube videos (and) run PowerPoint presentations,” Orr said, demonstrating the projector’s location awareness of the stylus.
“We have some of these that we’ve already set up with Apple TVs,” he added. That allows students using iPads to wirelessly connect with the projector and show presentations.
The whole building, including the cafetorium and gymnasium areas, are wirelessly-connected, allowing for flexibility and future expansion in the digital age.
“One thing we have to explore is the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy,” Orr said. “I believe that if we’re going to have something like that, there’s got to be an educational purpose for it. And if there is, we would support that.”
Teachers can save their voices, too, with lapel microphones that broadcast their voices through speakers in their classrooms.
And the building has new computers in its four computer labs.
“I’ve been tucking money away for the last several years to plan for just such a move,” he said. “We’ve been really careful with our resources so that we can start upgrading our technology equipment, including our (computers),” he said.
Technology in the form of shared iPads, Orr hopes, will play a role in helping falling academics in two subject areas for late-elementary school students.
“I’ve required that the (iPad) cart be shared between math and science so we can integrate those, because where we continue to fall down slightly here academically is with fifth- and sixth-grade math. So I’m trying to figure out how to build the scores up,” he said.
Students will also have hands-on opportunities, like doing video announcements with the district’s green screens, commonly used in television weather reports.
“We have digital cameras, high-definition cameras, throughout the building so that we are extremely safe and protective of our kids, as far as security measures,” Orr said.
“We’ve worked closely with the German Twp. Police Department. In fact, they’re going to come into the building for training (Saturday),” he said Wednesday.
Other security measures include a double entry system where visitors must check in via an intercom system before being let into the main office. They’d then need to be let into the main school building through a secondary entryway by office staff.
“We’re not going to just let anyone in unless we know what their business is,” Orr said.
The district has also taken energy-saving measures that includes motion-sensing lights in classrooms and a geothermal heating and cooling system.
“Two hundred and sixty-four (geothermal) wells that went into this building should have a payback to the community in 10 to 12 years,” he said. “So we’re going to realize so much energy savings over the years, it’s going to be a blessing to the community.”
Cafetorium and kitchen
A cafetorium will seat about 300 students during lunch hours, and can be converted to seat 400 to 500 concert- and theater-goers.
The kitchen includes new, commercial equipment and was designed with efficiency in mind.
“During the first round of bidding when we found ourselves over-budget, we had to make some reductions. One of the areas that we absolutely refused to make any reductions on was the quality of our kitchens,” he said.
Performing arts classrooms are located just off the backstage entrance of the cafetorium stage.
The marching band will have its own practice field nearby the music rooms, and the band room has secure instrument storage.
Athletics and phys ed
Two gymnasiums will serve junior high and high school physical education classes and games, with the varsity gym able to seat 1,350 spectators and the other able to seat 350 to 400.
While the district lost about 100 seats compared to the the old varsity gymnasium, it gained ADA compliance, Orr said.
The dual gymnasiums will also enable the district to host tournaments for volleyball or other sports, which it couldn’t do before. Scoreboards have been updated to include player statistic panels. and wrestling scoreboards have been installed.
Separate physical education and varsity locker rooms are connected.
A padded wrestling and cheerleading space, as well as a health and fitness weight room, were added.
All three former buildings will be razed in the near future, and the space will be used for soccer fields and better cross country facilities.
Tennis court construction will be going out for bid this week and would include five to six courts. Additionally, a softball field razed to make space for the new Junior/Senior High School will be replaced after the old buildings are torn down.
The Springfield News-Sun has covered Northwestern’s building project from the ballot request put to voters through the completion of construction.