February 20th, 2017
South Heart School is currently on track to complete phase one of its $13.1 million expansion project by early summer.
The initial phase of this project will extend the north end of the school to include a new kitchen, elementary gym — which will double as the entire school's cafeteria — and a number of elementary classrooms, said Calvin Dean, the school's superintendent.
Students in preschool all the way through high school share the same building.
"We have great students at South Heart School, we really do—extremely hard working, extremely respectful," Dean said. "I'm excited that they get to have something new."
Despite a harsh December, the construction project is still on schedule, he said. The second phase of the school will begin this summer. First the original school — which was built in 1916 — will be destroyed and replaced with a new fitness room, concession stand, lobby, locker rooms and high school classrooms. They will also build a new parking lot with at least 100 additional parking spots.
The school is also building a new vocational agriculture building, which is projected to be ready for the 2017-2018 school year. They will also resurface the track and install a sprinkler system in the infield, which may be used for football practices and games.
The entire project should wrap up in February or March of 2018, Dean said.
The school has seen a continual increase in enrollment during and even after the oil boom, he said. As a result, the district applied for state grants to help the school handle the sudden growth. In 2012 and 2013 the school received some of those state funds and installed modular classrooms to attach to the main building. These will be replaced as well during the expansion.
"When the oil boom was in full swing we were gaining enrollment a lot," Dean said. "And so that was what really prompted the project to happen. We also had some aging buildings, like the original 1916 building, which has a lot of history and nostalgia, but at the same time it was wearing out."
The school currently has 291 students and could potentially handle 350, he said. The new edition will have room for 450 students and essentially divide the school into elementary and high school sections. Currently all grade levels share a gym, music room and computer lab, which makes it difficult for classes to use, but the expansion will allow both schools to have their own elective spaces.
"We can pretty much separate high school, 7-12, from K-6. The only spot that we really share is a lunchroom," said Scott Jung, the high school principal and activities director.
Jessica Geis, the elementary principal, said she is looking forward to keeping the younger children out of the high school hallways. Though safety has not been an issue, she said she worries the small students may overhear something inappropriate from their older counterparts.
The students are excited about the project as well, Dean said. JE Dunn Construction and JLG Architects designed and built the expansion which has provided the older students the opportunity to learn more about potential careers including: surveyors, architects, engineers, electricians and construction managers.
"I think it was just great exposure because sometimes when you live in a small community, you don't get that exposure to all those different opportunities," he said. "Having them right here in your own backyard is kind of neat."
A new chapter
The vocational agriculture building will also provide more space for students to learn and work, Jung said. For example, the current classroom can fit only three welding machines, but the new area will provide a larger environment for students to learn those kinds of trades in addition to new courses including botany and horticulture. The building will also include a greenhouse.
Geis said the elementary classrooms are scattered around the school, so the new edition will unite all those classes into one section. The second grade classrooms are on opposite ends of the school, so those students only see each other at recess. This will also better equip teachers to combine their classes for various learning activities.
"I just feel like it's a new chapter, a new era that's going to be coming," Jung said. "A couple years ago when the boom was in full swing, we're cramming them in, we're trying to figure out what to do, and now it's like a new era."
The community has been supportive of the school as well, Dean said. It passed an $11 million bond referendum last March to make the construction possible. The remaining $2.1 million came from a combination of money the district had saved and funds from lease revenue bonds.
Ultimately the school will be better prepared for the future with more space to grow, he said.
"We've done as much as we possibly can with the money that we have, and we feel really good about it," Dean said. "We got great bids. We timed it perfectly because our bids were coming in when the oil was going down, so people were more hungry for work — it just worked out well. But we got fantastic bids, and we were able to do more than we had originally hoped."