New high school on track to open Jan. 1
The culmination of years of planning, labor and anticipation will take place on Jan. 1 with the opening of the new Eureka Springs High School.
The new facility, located at 2 Lake Lucerne Road downhill from the current elementary and middle schools, is a high-tech modern education center that upgrades nearly every aspect of the students' education, whether it be in terms of equipment, health, safety or ease of learning.
"When we began this project, we initially considered building at the original location as well as building out here, and it just made so much more sense to build out here," said Charles Morrison, project manager for Morrison Architecture of Eureka Springs, whose wife Laura is principal architect and owner. "The old high school is constructed of glass bricks and cannot be renovated or saved, so it would mean doing construction while students were attending school there. It would take four or five years to replace the old high school at that rate. Some students would spend their entire high school careers in a building under construction."
The new building is three stories and over 80,000 square feet. It's central corridor, or "Main Street" as it's called, runs north and south, and all the building's levels and rooms branch off it.
"The concept of the building is based on our experience of Eureka itself," Morrison said. "It's up and down, different levels and typographies."
There's an iPhone app for that
"This building incorporates the latest technology available to us," said Curtis Turner, superintendent of the Eureka Springs School District. "In the event of inclement weather, you can turn this building off and on remotely. If we have a snow day, we can tell the building not to fire up, and save all that money for heating."
The building uses wireless telecommunication, meaning, among other things, that student testing can take place anywhere in the facility.
"We worked really hard with this building to get as much natural light in the building as we could," said Morrison. "There are only two sets of windows on the west side, to cut down on the heat. Most windows are on the north, south and east, and the few on the west are situated so the nearby tree line will block the sun almost as soon as it drops low enough to shine inside the building."
The new gymnasium can seat up to 1,200 people, meaning Eureka Springs can now host district basketball tournaments.
"Eureka is a tourist town," said Morrison. "It's our main industry. So bringing people into Eureka was critical in our thinking to all of us. If we hold big tournaments, we can bring 1,200-1,500 people to town to stay in our hotels and eat at our restaurants."
The building houses 12-14 regular classrooms, including new chemistry and biology lab/classrooms, a new media center with two green rooms for students' TV/media projects, an auditorium with a full stage that can seat a 346-person audience, a cafeteria that can be opened to the outside in nice weather and offers patio seating, a large music room with individual sound-protected practice rooms, a business lab, and an EAST lab that includes hook-ups for EAST lab projects such as GPS surveying and robotics.
"Early on, the facilities committee began working toward a master landscaping plan, and we want to incorporate the students into that as well," said Turner. "For example, the kids are interested in building an outdoor amphitheater that makes use of the natural topography on the school grounds."
EAST is a unique high school class that emphasizes using advanced technology applications to solve community service projects. In the process of solving community problems, EAST students learn to become creative, intuitive, adaptable learners who can solve unpredictable, real-world problems.
Safer than houses
In terms of safety, the entrance is constructed so no one can enter without being monitored by the main office. If there is bad weather, the central corridor downstairs is constructed of reinforced concrete, and Morrison described a large storage area off the gym as being "essentially a bunker" that can be used as a shelter as well.
"Not only that," Turner added, "but due to the automatic systems, I can monitor the building's activity from anywhere. If somebody breaks in here, I can look and see where they came in specifically."
Students will enter and leave the building from a big parking lot near the south entrance, and scheduling has been arranged for maximum safety in terms of buses loading or unloading, as well as for those driving their own automobiles -- students and faculty alike.
"At day's end, everything will flow out to the south," Morrison said. "We had to work to make sure all buses will be on level ground loading and unloading. One of the biggest challenges was figuring out how to fit everything -- the buildings, the parking areas, etc. -- on level ground, given the up-and-down terrain out here. There was originally a 30-50 foot drop from one end of the site to the other. It took four months just to move the dirt. But we did it."
According to Turner, the transition into the new school will take place by Jan. 1.
"It may take into the spring to get every last thing out of the old building," he said, "but you're looking at moving out of 60,000 square feet into an 80,000-square-foot building. So it's an ambitious task; we will start the week after Thanksgiving moving things we don't need down there (at the old campus). We don't want to rely on the weather being good the rest of the year. In this part of the world, it could snow or it could be nice through the Christmas break."
Turner said on Jan. 2 the school will hold a teacher in-service day, and that night it will hold an open house for the staff and the students and their families. A public open house will take place later in the month.
"A lot of people have really poured their hearts and souls into this," Turner said. "For people who haven't seen the new building, it's really hard for me to convey how remarkable it really is, and I can't do it justice. They need to come have a look."
Bang for the buck
"This school district got so much bang for their buck, in terms of construction costs, with the state of the economy at the time this all began," Morrison said. "I hate to say that with Kinco Construction standing right here, but it's true."
On top of all that, according to Morrison, virtually everything in this building can be recycled. "Fifty years from now, if they decide the building is old and we need to do something else, everything here -- concrete, metal panels, everything -- can be recycled. So we have an exit strategy. There is no toxic anything in this building."
Turner is more than satisfied with the facility.
"I haven't had anything this nice in all my years in public school," he said. "I want to spend some extra time down here when school starts just watching the expressions on the faces of the kids when they see it for the first time. It's going to be a zoo the first week, but we'll figure it out."