BLAINE - The smell of fresh paint still lingered in the newly renovated science building as students returned to Blaine High School on Wednesday, Aug. 28.
The science building was gutted and redesigned over the summer as part of a slew of upgrades funded by a $3 million bond approved by Blaine voters in 2012.
The middle and high schools both converted old spaces into new life skills classrooms with funds from the bond. The cost of renovating the science and life skills rooms was $2.4 million; the other portion of the bond went toward upgrades made in summer 2012, including the installation of new heating units, security cameras and carpets in the district's schools.
Junior Nathan Kramme, 16, was impressed with the new lab setup Wednesday morning.
"This used to be a large space with a pretty ratty carpet and old tables," he said. "It's not that it was the school's fault, it just happens with time, but this is pretty neat."
Some of the items in the old lab were indeed from a different era. An electrical panel that ran all lab equipment in the space resembled a World War II-era phone operator's board, with wires that needed to be connected from port to port to work, said Principal Scott Ellis.
"It looked like something out of a Frankenstein movie," said Ron Spanjer, superintendent of Blaine School District. "Now each table has its own controls. Everything is state-of-the-art."
In the old setup, one giant lab was used by up to four science classes at the same time, with the space sometimes separated by particle-board dividers, Ellis said.
For George Kaas, who teaches biology, aquaculture and horticulture, the most exciting part of the renovation is that teachers get their own room and lab.
"We're all very collegial, but it would get a bit loud and crazy with so many students in the old space," Kaas said. "The new space is going to lend itself not only to a more efficient experience for students, but all instructors are now housed in the same site, so we will have the chance for more collaboration."
Sophomore Misty Hughes, 15, said the new space looks more organized, and should help students focus.
"When there was one room, it was hard sometimes if one class had to take a test while we had a lab, because we had to be really quiet," Hughes said. "Now that shouldn't be a problem."
Previously, a few science teachers were in the science building, but others, like Kaas, were in other classrooms in the school.
The building now hosts four separate classrooms with their own labs, and a larger collaborative science lab that will allow two classes to get together for a lesson. The new space also houses one of the only hallways on the campus, which was built in the open-air pod-style that was popular in the 1960s and '70s.
The motto for the renovation was not entirely "out with the old, in with the new," however. Between each pair of classrooms are new prep spaces that teachers can use to set up for their labs. The school was able to save some of the vintage cabinets to be used in the prep rooms, Spanjer said.
Classrooms freed up elsewhere by the renovation allowed for the new life skills room to be built at the high school. Previously, middle and high school students with higher needs for physical and academic support were using a partially remodeled locker room in the middle school, but that was never meant to be a permanent fix.
"With the new spaces at the high school and middle school, the students will be more accessible to their peer group," Spanjer said.
The rebuild was done by Roosendahl-Honcoop Construction. All finishing touches should be completed by the second week of school, Spanjer said.
The bond should be paid off by 2017, at which point the district might look at approaching taxpayers again with the original plan for a new high school, he said.
"It was a really big deal for our taxpayers to approve this bond in the tough economic times they did," Ellis said. "The good news is the science building was phase one of that original plan, and our kids will benefit greatly from this."
Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-756-2803 or firstname.lastname@example.org.