For as long as superintendent Dean Gorrell has been with the Verona Area School District, he’s been working on getting the district a new high school.
That school will be ready for students in September, but amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it might remain mostly empty for a while.
Part of a $182 million project that started back in 2006 and will provide a new home for six of the district’s nine schools, it’s Gorrell’s VASD capstone, as he’ll be retiring from a 16-year career here shortly after the end of its first year of existence.
So the idea of possibly seeing the 343,000-square foot building and all of its new athletic facilities and state-of-the-art technical training areas devoid of students ruins the excitement he’d had when the school was being built.
“It’s really kind of a hollow feeling, to be honest with you,” he said. “We had such anticipation of this grand opening, with all of the tours and the public sessions for viewing the school … of course, none of that’s happened.”
Still, eventually, the high school and others being moved and renovated will be used as intended, and when they are, it will change the look and feel of the district in many ways. In addition to upscale facilities, the project brings changes in learning, socialization, security, athletics, community activities and even traffic, as the school is moving from the middle of the City of Verona to just off its highest bypass.
The design of the new high school will provide students with more opportunities to work collaboratively by design, to be social and to train students in trades such as nursing, culinary arts and automotive repair.
It has dedicated spaces for students to work independently or collaboratively with a group of their peers, such as quiet study spaces in the library, conference rooms adjacent to some of the classrooms and end caps on the hallways, all of which are intended to support students’ personalized learning.
Security is another emphasis of the new building, which went through major design changes just two months before its groundbreaking in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.
Among other features, it’s designed to allow staff to close off portions of the school with a press of a button to isolate students from active threats, and students will have a different entrance than visitors on the opposite side of the school.
And for the first time, every high school student athlete will be able to play on their “home field,” once sports seasons are able to start back up. Previously, outdoor sports like football, track and field and cross country were able to play at the VAHS campus, but others such as soccer, baseball and softball had to relocate to Reddan Soccer Park, Stampfl Field or the softball fields behind Country View Elementary School.
Designed to be a community hub, the high school features several jaw-dropping facilities that are expected to eventually stay busy with both school-related and extracurricular activities.
That includes two pools – one an eight-lane competition pool for the swim teams with a diving board area, the other a warm water pool that can be used by community members and students alike for open swim, lessons and exercise.
There’s also a new performing arts center that holds around 1,000 people, facing a stage that has accessible ramps from the audience and a trap door built into the floor.
On the opposite side of the school, a fieldhouse consists of five basketball courts – one with a wooden floor for competition game play, with four other sets of hoops for practice – and a track for indoor practice.
There will be trickle-down effects for all students in the district, some of whom will physically move buildings, while others will be able to get more breathing room in their current school.
One of the biggest is moving many students out of Glacier Edge Elementary School, where staff were having to use every inch of the school to spread students out.
The physical changes will come for Sugar Creek Elementary School, Badger Ridge Middle School and the district’s three charter schools.
As the previous high school building at 300 Richard St. is vacated by its staff, Badger Ridge Middle School and Core Knowledge Charter School will move in, and the charter elementary schools, New Century and Verona Area International School, will take over the K-Wing, making it the second time the building is being used as an elementary school. Sugar Creek will move into Badger Ridge’s old building, increasing its capacity to nearly 700 students.
Even with all these changes, Gorrell is expecting the district will need more referendums and more new schools in the coming years as the district continues to grow. But the new building and the resulting moves throughout the district give the district time to plan, rather than playing catch-up.
“The idea was, can we find an elegant solution that keeps the cost contained … what can we do to build in additional capacity, at least to get us out five years or so?” Gorrell said.