June 05, 2003
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Photo by Diane Chiddister
Superintendent Tony Armocida and Craig Conrad, head of maintenance for the Yellow Springs school district, standing in the new atrium at Mills Lawn School.


Scheduled to be completed by beginning of next school year—

Construction project winding down

Sometimes when he walks through the newly constructed parts of Yellow Springs High School and Mills Lawn School, Superintendent Tony Armocida thinks of cathedrals. Not, he quickly clarifies to a visitor, that he compares the high school’s architecture to that of cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Rather, he believes the newly remodeled schools, like the cathedrals, will enhance students’ feelings of hopefulness, of excitement about learning.
“It’s a positive thing,” he said during a tour of the construction sites Monday. “It’s a positive way of looking at the future.”
For YSHS physics teacher Phil Lemkau, the new physics classroom, which is five times the size of his current room, means that he’ll no longer have to crawl beneath tables to set up a demonstration. For McKinney and YSHS art teacher Carla Steiger-Meister, her new classroom — about four times the size of her current room — means that, when an art project calls for water, she’ll no longer have to carry it into her room in buckets.
For Craig Conrad, head of maintenance for the district, the project means seeing the excitement on teachers’ faces as the project nears completion. For both Conrad and Armocida, the project means expanding horizons for Yellow Springs children.
“I really hope that when people see the new construction they’ll be proud of what they’ve done,” said Armocida. “It’s a great learning space for kids.”
Begun last summer, the yearlong, $4.5 million construction project, which is the largest construction project the school district has undertaken in about 30 years, is winding to a close. At YSHS and the McKinney School, only “lots of odds and ends” remain to be completed in the newly constructed area before workers begin renovating existing classrooms, according to Conrad. Although more work remains at Mills Lawn, contractors plan to finish the entire project by the beginning of school next fall.
All signs indicate that the project will be completed on schedule and on budget, according to Armocida. Funding for the project came from a special bond issue, which voters passed in 2000.
As well as extensive room renovations at the high school, the project has added 28,000 square feet to the three schools, with the space about equally divided between the buildings. The main contractor, Mulhall Becker of Cincinnati, has performed its work well and with few delays, said Armocida, who gives much of the credit for the project’s success to Conrad, who is overseeing the project for the district.
“Not only is Craig technically sharp so that he understands what’s happening,” said Armocida, “but he’s tremendous at building relationships with the contractors.”
New science classrooms topped the list of needs at McKinney School and Yellow Springs High School, and the recent construction includes a new physics classroom along with a new McKinney science classroom. The new rooms are located behind the current school gymnasium.
The large physics classroom features lots of counter space for experiments, plus abundant storage space in oak cabinets and drawers. Currently, said Lemkau, he has to store class items in the McKinney science room, so that he must wait for class breaks to retrieve his materials. The small size of his current room also necessitates his tearing down each experiment between classes, and in his new room there’s plenty of room to leave experiments up for days at a time.
“This will make a huge difference” in the physics program, said Lemkau, who has taught at the school for 22 years and who sponsors the school’s award-winning physics team. “It will make everything much more comfortable.”
Both science classrooms are spacious and light-filled, equipped with high-quality furniture. “Our science labs will be as good as any high school labs anywhere,” said Armocida.
Space, light and good-quality furniture were priorities during the construction project, Armocida said. Planners kept costs down by using low-cost building materials, such as cement-block walls, metal window frames and sheet flooring, and chose the project’s architects, the SEM Architects of Columbus, because the firm has a reputation for “doing creative stuff with basic materials,” Armocida said. “There’s nothing fancy here.”
The new construction at YSHS also features a state-of-the-art video classroom, complete with a production area, three video editing rooms and a darkroom. Other YSHS additions, all along what was previously the gym’s back wall, are a faculty lounge and work room, a double classroom to be used for health classes as well as larger class needs and a fitness room.
The project also enclosed the walkway between the high school and the McKinney School, which had previously been open-air, and added a courtyard with an amphitheater for student activities. Renovation of existing classrooms will result in a new music practice room and an expanded and updated art classroom. The art classroom will include a kiln, more space for bigger projects and improved access to water, electricity and computers.
“Everything about the room is a huge improvement,” said art teacher Carla Steiger-Meister. “It will enhance the students’ learning environment enormously.”
At Mills Lawn School, the construction project’s most obvious change is the new gymnasium, which is about two and a half times the size of the school’s old gym. The expansion allows the school to use the gym, which doubles as a lunchroom, for both lunch and gym activities at the same time, and will also allow for more room during all-school activities. The gym also includes an expanded stage area.
A high-ceiling entrance with a skylight stands adjacent to the gym, which, Armocida emphasized, will also be available for community activities. The walkway south of the gym to the school’s library and some classrooms has been enclosed, so that children will no longer have to brave the elements as they walk to class.
New Mills Lawn rooms, which are located on the school’s south side, include a new music room, a classroom for multi-handicapped students and one for the school’s ILE, or gifted, program, which all students take part in. All of the rooms are spacious and light-filled, and light fills the adjacent atrium hallway, due to the translucent window panels used in the roof.
The construction project also includes a new large meeting room, adjacent to the school’s current offices, which will be used for school board meetings and will also be available for community meetings, according to Armocida.
A challenge for planners and contractors during the Mills Lawn construction has been the school system’s desire to not disturb the existing trees on the property, said Armocida, explaining that a detailed survey of the property’s trees helped planners design the new structure.
“We wanted something respectful of the area,” he said. “It’s one of the sacred places in the village.”
The newly expanded high school and elementary school will be displayed to the public next fall, after the school year begins and students get settled into their new space. After a year of the stress of construction, Armocida plans to enjoy showing off the new schools to the community.
“We’re looking forward to it,” he said.
—Diane Chiddister