For more than a year families of Gretna Public Schools have watched as a plot of land near Gretna High School has gone from a water detention basin to piles of dirt to the new addition standing today.
While inner construction is not fully complete, the addition will be open for class this fall and host a variety of classrooms both in and outdoors.
“Eventually this building can serve 1,600 students,” Superintendent Kevin Riley said.
The $35.8 million bond issue was passed in November 2010 and construction began in the fall of 2011.
“That was mostly dirt work,” Riley said, “it started in earnest in spring of 2012.”
The overall construction includes 92,000 square feet of expansions on the pre-existing structure and the new, two story addition as well as a courtyard area.
Inside the original structure, the cafeteria space and kitchen are currently being expanded to prepare for future years of large student bodies.
“You’ll need enough space to feed a lot of kids,” Riley said.
With this expansion, the high school’s entrances have been added to as well, with visitors and students walking in to see the principal’s office.
The current office space used by the principal will still serve as offices for faculty, Riley said.
He said the new addition to the building will include 30 to 40 new classrooms, depending on how staff use the space.
For instance, some of the smaller rooms will be used as special education rooms, he said.
“It all depends on how you utilize the space,” he said.
Some of these classrooms, however, will not be completed until they are needed.
Riley said the classrooms on both floors that run along Hackberry Drive will not be finished with this current construction project.
He said bids on finishing the classrooms came in low and credited the school board for deciding to hold off on completing the last 12 to 16 classrooms inside the completed building to save money.
“When we need to come and finish the classrooms, it’ll be at a much lower cost,” Riley said.
Still, he said, it is likely the classrooms will be completed relatively soon.
“We graduated 189 seniors, we have over 300 kindergartners,” he said.
He added most elementary school grades currently have 250 to 275 students.
“We’re gonna go from 800 students to 1,000 to 1,200 in a short period of time,” he said.
Riley said while the inside is still under construction, the outside has already caught the attention of many families.
For instance, he said many people have asked about the designs of the new windows, which include both transparent and opaque panes.
“You want the ability to see outside but also a way to properly keep the sun’s rays out and that heat that comes with it,” he said.
He said awnings have been strategically placed over the windows to block out the most amount of sunlight while the more opaque panes serve to catch the rest of the light. This helps to keep the building cooller in the warmer months.
“It’s an energy conservation approach,” he said.
Another question he said he is asked a lot is in regards to large bay windows on the west side of the addition.
“It’s the open lobby for the counselor’s area,” he said.
The new addition also includes a large courtyard area that has room for outdoor classrooms.
Riley said over the course of developing the expansion plan, GPS and its architectural group DLR, it was discovered it made the most sense to connect an addition, which created a courtyard area.
“In order to have it connect, it made sense to have this outdoor classroom opportunity,” he said.
He said the courtyard area will serve a wide variety of classes, from outdoor science labs, theater and speech classes in the amphitheater, or just an open space for an open-air class.
“We will use this extensively,” he said.
Other minor projects in the construction phase will also include paint and new carpet, Riley said, adding the current carpet is the original carpet from 1997.
“They say you can get 10 years out of a carpet,” he said. “This has stayed nice for 16.”
Though it’s not complete, Riley said he has heard a lot of positive feedback from the community already.
“People have been really happy,” he said.
A common response he said he’s heard is that the school has built a nice building, but not one that is over the top, a building that is both attractive as it is useful.
That, Riley said, is exactly what the district had in mind.