GHEC renovation project nears end

A major component of the Granada-Huntley-East Chain building and renovation project has been the construction of a new gymnasium, featuring purple and black school colors.

GRANADA — As many know and have seen, the Granada-Huntley-East Chain School has been under renovation for months, even seasons.

While anticipation continues to grow for community members and staff who have been eagerly waiting to see the completion of the building and to utilize the improvements, there is also now time to reflect on the work, which is in its final stages.

“The idea started a year ago last January (2015),” said Superintendent Dale Brandsoy. “After combining two buildings that were half full and bringing all students to Granada for schooling in one building, we discussed finances and where to go from there.”

Granada-Huntley-East Chain community members gathered to discuss the future of the school, starting what became known as strategic planning.

“The strategic plan committee met a few times to further discuss education, facility and taxes, and to create a strategic plan of what the communities were wanting to see change,” Brandsoy said.

Those meetings resulted in a concept to upgrade technology, safety features, classrooms and build a new gymnasium.

In a vote in November 2015, GHEC residents approved a bond levy of $6.9 million for the project.

“There are some necessary improvements that have been made that were not in the original plan,” Brandsoy noted. “These additions will help benefit us for future years, and have been monitored to stay within our budget.”

Groundbreaking began in April 2016, with the Joseph Company Inc. as the general contractor.

“Joseph Company took about three months to get everything in place, and ICS stepped in and led the charge,” Brandsoy said. “The board also wanted as many local contractors as they could have.”

With a tight timeline and much to accomplish, the crews worked diligently to get the job done while also maintaining the safety of the students who were still in session. Once school let out for summer, further renovations/construction was done not only on the outside but the inside as well.

Through the summer months, on average there were 50 men working on site to build and upgrade the school. Two new classrooms were built against the outside wall of the school.

“Other than the two new classrooms, there have been many other changes to the inside of the school as well that many can’t see from the outside,” said Dan Thompson, ICS project manager. “The cabinets in the existing classrooms were from when the building was first built, and the majority of the cabinets in the existing classrooms are now replaced. All the windows in the entire building were replaced as well, which will help in years to come.”

The inside of the school also features an aluminum storm front entrance opened up for daylight and a sprinkler system. LED automatic lighting and automatic faucets and toilets will help with energy savings, while new technology such as interactive monitors will show advancement in classroom learning.

Carpet was installed in almost all of the classrooms. It absorbs noise and is easier to walk on than ceramic tile, and all the doors both interior and exterior were replaced.

New furniture can be found in classrooms and in the commons-flex learning area, new flooring in the kitchen and cafeteria, and renovations to the science room are set to happen in the coming months.

“Compared to before, it’s amazing what it looks like now,” Thompson said. “It’s amazing to get all the stuff done that we did, and the timeliness of those who worked on this project was awesome.”

Thompson was not the only one impressed, as the school board, staff and administration was thankfully surprised when the school was able to start on time.

“Before school opened back up in the fall, everything was done inside, except there was no carpeting in any of the classrooms,” Thompson said. “The carpet started to be laid down three to four days before school started and yet all was finished and everything was out of the way for students and staff to access the classrooms and hallways in time for school to start as scheduled.”

Construction continued in areas such as the gymnasium as students came back into the school with excitement after a summer away. As the semester led on, excitement built as the time came closer to being finished.

“The gymnasium is a huge part of this project and has been well received by those who have seen it,” Thompson said. “The seating capacity is 621 and was installed last Monday. There is a new audio/PA system, two new locker rooms and a family locker room, as well as three new restrooms, concession stand, and commons-flex learning area.”

With colors of purple and black symbolizing the relatively new Jaguar mascot, the gym holds a sense of pride. Banners are being hung showing records earned, along with conference flags celebrating the teams that will soon be playing on the newly stained and polished floor.

Those attending games will enjoy the furnished commons area where kids and adults can stretch, snack and, in time, watch the game on a TV. Although not fully completed yet, the gym is sure to please with its size, advancements and accessibility.

“I think there is a lot of pride,” Brandsoy said. “They want to have the best and that is what we are trying to provide. Quality products and quality workmanship have been put into this and there is a real excitement with all the communities, and I believe anyone who walked in here and would take a look around could see that.”

Principal Mandy Fletcher shared in the excitement of the advancements in not only the buildings structure but in the structure of the education that will be better received through these improvements.

“The two new classrooms will be used as tools that will be examples of 21st-century learning,” she said. “We are going away from desks in a row facing the front of the room and instead going with tables that support teamwork. We have been implementing this style into the school already with our STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) philosophy and the kids are thriving.”

With student education in mind during all decisions, the news of technology updates and safety improvements gives any parent the knowledge that students are in an environment that provides the best possible education.

“We really focused on incorporating technology to enhance learning, not replace the teacher,” Fletcher said. “A pilot will begin this spring in seeing how two classrooms do in sharing the Chromebook cart. We also have all new wiring and have increased the number of devices possible in each classroom.”

The security system has been implemented since school began and although has taken some getting used to, has shown great results.

“Once school starts, all doors are locked except our main entrance (west) during the school day,” Fletcher said. “All visitors have to check into the office and is much more safe and secure for our students. The doors are also programmed and on a timer, which has been really nice for us to not have to manually lock and unlock them all every time they are used.”

The foyer windows show decals stating the mission, vision and belief statements created by the strategic plan committee that tie into the school and the project that is almost complete. The vision statement reads, “A small community school committed to excellence in technology, academics, leadership and extracurricular activities in which everyone matters.”

“We keep those statements at the forefront of all we do and every single person coming through those doors will see that,” Fletcher said. “We are very excited for the future and extremely thankful for the community support through this entire process.”

While final touches will be made during Christmas break, allowing time for those who have worked hard to have a little breathing room for the holidays, the project will be completed in January.

“I speak highly of the administration, school board, and staff here as they were very easy to work with, which can also be said for all the contractors we had working here including Joseph Company who went beyond the scope of contracting to make sure they did everything they could to make this project a success,” Thompson said. “I have been in enough schools to see it makes a difference and see the benefit it provides the kids, and to see the excitement and positive attitudes from the teachers and communities is a great thing.”

An open house is in store for Friday, Jan. 6, from 5-7 pm. Refreshments will be served in the cafeteria, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held between the B and varsity boys basketball game in the gym. The public is invited to tour the facility during this celebration.