Archive for Thursday, August 29, 2002

LTMS makeover more than a pretty face

August 29, 2002

Seventh-grader Savannah Rawie returned to Lexington Trails Middle School to find a much different school than the one she left less than three months earlier.

"It was all new," she said. "I got lost the first time I went upstairs."

Rawie's experience wasn't unique, said Lexington Trails Middle School Principal Mark Schmidt. Renovations at the school have students and staff looking at site plans as they try to find their way around. Schmidt said things will continue to change before work is completed in December.

"It's kind of like a continuing Christmas you get new gifts all the time," he said.

Students not anxious to return to school got an early Christmas present when Lexington Trails opened a day later than the district's other schools.

"From the perception of safety, we could have had school," Schmidt said. "From the perception of being prepared for kids ... they were still finishing up classrooms Friday afternoon. Teachers hadn't even been in their classrooms. The first days of school are so important in establishing the right atmosphere for the rest of the year. We didn't want to go in disorganized."

The one-day delay was caused by a revised construction schedule that now has contractor J.E. Dunn finishing the remodel before the start of the second semester in January. When the USD 232 Board of Education approved the $8.8 million project, it was thought interior work would be done in phases over two summers, said district facilities director Denis Johnson.

The district saved an estimated $104,000 with the earlier completion date because construction managers and supervisors will not have to be on site as many days, Johnson said.

The ongoing construction does cause problems. The school's office opens up to a commons area behind the glass fae that now dominates the school's exterior. Until the commons area is finished in about two weeks, the only way into the office is through narrow a back passage. Students and staff are dealing with other annoyances, too, as work continues on a two-story, 22-classroom addition.

"Right now we are crowded," he said. "For the first time since I've been here, we have a couple of teachers sharing classrooms. We're doing what we need to do, knowing it's temporary.

"What we currently have is 10 times better than what we had when we left here last spring."

Improvements start in the classrooms, Schmidt said, where the design emphasizes flexibility and efficiency.

Many classroom fixtures are placed on wheels so teachers can reorganize the space to fit their needs. Accordion walls enable teachers to combine adjoining classrooms for joint projects or allow rooms to be enlarged to meet future needs, he said.

More space was found for instructional use by eliminating the need for hallways, Schmidt said, while other changes created a better learning environment.

"The vast majority of our classrooms have windows now," he said. "Research has shown students with access to windows or some form of natural light perform better."

The school's art room has been relocated from a lower-floor windowless location to a corner location on the second floor, much to the joy of art teacher Nancy Roberts. Natural light is important in art, and windows help her explain concepts like atmospheric perspective, she said. The new art room also has more space and storage, which allows her to be better organized and increase instructional time, she said.

The cafeteria is the school's signature space, Schmidt said.

Colored tiles, colorfully painted walls and awnings above the food-serving windows gave the cafeteria a more festive atmosphere, Schmidt said. The design elements and a central aisle between rows of columns are meant to evoke a park-like feeling that will be enhanced with the completion of an adjoining patio.

"Our kids work hard in the morning," he said. "We wanted to give them a place to relax before hitting it again in the afternoon."

The cafeteria received thumbs up from Rawie and fellow seventh-graders Elise Papp, Cheyenne Williams and Ashley Atchison as they sat down for lunch Friday. They also liked larger students' lockers and the new girls locker room. The old girls locker room is now part of a larger boys locker room, while the art room and other space on the lower level were renovated for girls locker facilities.

Physical education teacher Susan Slater said the girls were overlooking one big improvement that has already made their lives much more comfortable. The school's gymnasium is now air conditioned, she said.

Rawie, Papp, Williams and Atchison said they were excited about the white media boards in their classrooms. Blank now, they remind the students of the introduction of wireless laptop technology with the start of the second semester in January. The boards will allow teachers to display instructional materials from their own laptops, Schmidt said.

The wireless laptop system was first introduced this semester in the district's newest school, Riverview Elementary in Shawnee. That introduction is going well, Schmidt said, but he was thankful his school was not on the top of the list.

"It's kind of nice to be beta," he said. "Hopefully, it'll be pretty flawless when it comes to us.

"I told the kids schools are not about brick and mortar. They're about the students, teachers and staff and how we treat each other as we strive for excellence.

"That's what this school's been about for a long time. Now we'll have a building that supports that."

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