BY LISA DAVIS ORF
“Stronger Together” has taken on new meaning since construction began last summer at Jefferson City High School (JCHS). The campus recently entered Phase 3. This means a third round of classroom relocations, a third round of class-to-class routing, a third round of administrators, faculty, and staff totaling 178 — added to a student body numbering 1,583 — actually embracing the process.
The occupants of this campus keep proving themselves up for the challenge as the construction phases progress, according to Assistant Principal Jacob Adams. “What we hear a lot is, ‘This is going better than expected’ and ‘It’s not the worst possible thing to happen.’ We’re making it through.” Although, he admits, “Winter has been tough.”
The 2018-19 school year opened to Phase 1. The classroom shifting was in place, six trailers were parked on the north side of the main building forming “Jay Village,” and the third floor of the main building– mostly completed over the summer — was being utilized. Students were simply routed away from construction areas blocked off by exterior fencing or interior walls. Phase 2 blocked the walkway and bus stop site between the first floor of Nichols Career Center (NCC) and the main building (the two buildings will be structurally joined upon the January 2020 completion), and moving the main entrance next to the current loading dock area. A main staircase emerged taking foot traffic past the weight room building to the second floor of NCC and moving bus stops to the new main entrance and along Lafayette Street. Another staircase leading from the NCC parking lot, then following a walkway constructed along the south side of the main building, became more heavily utilized for passing-time during Phase 3 when access points into both buildings and certain hallways therein became even more limited.
Adams is heading up the day-to-day that, in addition to his other duties, entails mapping routes on campus that have increasingly become more exterior during the school year. He has walked what may very well be the equivalent of several marathons in his efforts to keep the passages moving smoothly. Adams explains that it’s not a simple matter of walking, it’s also, “If I have to stop and do this. . . .” He frequently goes to a class, identifies the most talkative student, and follows that student to his or her next class knowing that student likely won’t be in a big hurry, then factors in passing-time calibration from that student’s pace.
Passing-times have increased from five minutes to eight minutes with the construction. Each new phase calls for routing adjustments due to classroom relocations. “School is so routine,” Adams observes. “The bell rings, they go to class. Although with the construction it’s tougher. The biggest challenge is changing routines on the fly.”
“For students, travel is a bother but they are, for the most part, receptive and understanding of the situation,” explains Erin Carl, agriculture education instructor and FFA adviser.
Although, she does find a little humor in her own building-to-building travails, “When I need to go to the high school I travel out behind NCC down the ‘mountain steps’ and into the high school building. One way, walking isn’t terrible, but there is a reason you don’t do both at one time — the way back then will about kill you!”
Weather has not been a friend to JCHS with unseasonable rains and harsher winters than in the recent past. In fact, with regard to those outside elements, Yolanda Martin, a JCHS senior who travels the campus as a first block office assistant deadpans, “Maybe could have planned that better.” Football Jays defensive tackle, Olisa Anunoby, a junior at JCHS, agrees that walkways can get a little challenging and the cold isn’t any fun, but “that’s the way it is.”
To eliminate “bottle-necking” at the popular NCC northside access point during passing time, Phase 3 routes students from Jay Village and the main building along the north side and from NCC and the “trailer park” (two pre-construction mobile classrooms on the west side of NCC) along the south side.
“It sucks that we can’t use the big staircase anymore (to exit NCC),” Anunoby laments over the new one-way routes. “It makes getting around the campus take longer.” Martin, however, maintains that the main staircase has its own challenges, “Getting through the staircase (during passing) you waddle through a lot, but once you learn the routes it’s really pretty easy. It is what it is.”
Adams says the custodial staff has been vigilant in keeping exterior walkways safe and crunchy with salt treatment to prevent ice from forming. Umbrellas are available at student entrances with the “have a penny, leave a penny” concept for when precipitation is falling, although he’s not certain every student understands the idea of depositing the umbrella at the next entrance. Adams shakes his head, “I find them all over the school.”
Several new classrooms opened to “oohs” and “ahhs” on the first floor of NCC including kitchens for FACS (Family and Consumer Science) and Culinary Arts classes. Adams is clearly amused in recalling one student who insisted there was no possible way she had sat in a newly renovated FACS classroom three months earlier, “She was convinced everything was new and had not previously existed.” In fact, responses to finished work have been completely heartening in Adams’ book.
“The reaction to the third floor (in the main building) was like opening Christmas presents for teachers,” he said. “They’d go, ‘Look at my classroom!’ They were so excited — it’s worth it.” Carl says she, too is “excited for the new classrooms and spaces. I just hope they stay as nice as they start once we are complete.”
The seven phases of construction began June 2018, though only four of these phases impact student navigation of the campus. The 2019-20 school year will open with Phase 4. Teachers are excited for the stability of permanent classrooms, yet the shifting process turns out to have its own merits. One that Adams has found appreciable: “It’s pulling together people who work together. Science, business, FACS, and art have never worked that closely together because they’ve always been in different locations. Now, they’re next to each other.” Carl agrees the process examples the JCHS way, the Stronger Together spirit, “If we can all make it through the messy in the middle we will be just fine in January once it’s complete.”
Lisa Davis Orf is a freelance writer and substitute teacher based in Jefferson City. In her free time she likes to read books, ride her bicycle, and hang out with her grandkids.