Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette St. Joseph Central Elementary School students walk past construction areas.
Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette The new entrance for St. Joseph Elementary School.
Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette The media area under construction at St. Joseph Central Elementary School.
Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette What will be the office and new main entrance for St. Joseph Central Elementary School.
Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette An original mural in St. Joseph Central Elementary School that staff and parents voted to keep intact despite construction.
Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette The new office area under construction at St. Joseph Central Elementary School.
Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette First-grade teacher Sarah Smith’s classroom is one of the recently renovated classrooms at Saint Joseph Central Elementary School. Smith says she likes the neutral colors on the wall.
Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Lower coat hooks and shelves for storage are part of the renovations at St. Joseph Central Elementary School.
Saint Joseph Central Principal William Critell stands in the under-construction media center.
Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Staff walk down the under-construction halls of St. Joseph Central Elementary School.
Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette St. Joseph Central Elementary School principal William Critell in the under-consruction media center.
Sunday, May 13, 2018 1:00 am
Schools adjust to construction
Buildings rehabbed even as students make way to class
ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette
Fort Wayne Community Schools, major renovations in progress
• Northrop High School
• Lane Middle School
• Glenwood Park Elementary School
• Saint Joseph Central Elementary School
• Washington Center Elementary School
East Allen County Schools, buildings with active construction
• Cedarville Elementary School
• Leo Elementary School
• New Haven High School
• New Haven Intermediate School (new construction)
• Southwick Elementary School
• Heritage and Woodlan junior-senior high schools (turf projects)
• Woodlan Junior-Senior High School (outbuilding)
This school year hasn't been the nightmare New Haven High School Principal Anna Murphy feared.
Construction has forced some teachers to relocate, has taken over the gymnasium, created parking issues and made the building noisier – particularly in hallways temporarily without ceiling tiles.
Yet students and staff have taken these changes, along with others, in stride as the outdated and increasingly more crowded school undergoes renovations and an expansion. It is slated to open as a junior-senior high school in fall 2020.
“It's going to look so nice,” Murphy said. “We're going to look new and fresh.”
The East Allen County school is among several local schools where construction equipment is a common sight. Active projects include renovations and additions at Leo and Southwick elementary schools in East Allen and major renovations at five buildings in Fort Wayne Community Schools, including Saint Joseph Central Elementary, where 11 building permits are taped to the entrance.
Meanwhile, construction is looming at Southwest Allen County Schools, which plans to begin its $10 million Lafayette Meadows Elementary School expansion this summer with estimated completion by August 2019. In Northwest Allen County Schools, voters last week overwhelmingly supported its plea for a new elementary school and about $3 million in efficiency and safety projects districtwide, including secure entrances at four schools.
Although work sites might cause headaches elsewhere – such as drivers encountering reduced lanes and delays – principals at New Haven and Saint Joseph Central praised construction crews for their cooperation and responsiveness to schools' needs.
“We're on a texting basis,” Murphy said.
The East Allen school board last summer approved a $29.2 million contract with Hagerman Construction for the New Haven project. It is part of an $87.5 million building program that proceeded without a public referendum.
FWCS – which is carrying out nearly $130 million in projects voters approved in 2016 – timed certain improvements to coincide with summer break to minimize disruption, said Heather Krebs of the district's facilities department.
Summer work at Saint Joseph Central will address kindergarten classrooms, the cafeteria, the gym and the corridors, she said. Projects elsewhere include changing locksets at 22 schools and a bleacher/gym renovation at South Side High School.
“It's tough enough shutting it down in the summer,” Krebs said of the athletics facility.
When construction is unavoidable during the academic year, like at Saint Joseph Central and New Haven, it doesn't necessarily mean students are negatively affected by extra noise and distraction.
“It's just like school,” New Haven junior Skyler Hicks said, adding parking issues are the biggest annoyance.
His English teacher, A.J. Lorenzini, was among a few who relocated from a first-floor classroom to a second-floor computer lab above the new entrance – a move made easier as a new teacher, he said. He has been interrupted by noisy power tools, he said, but he doesn't notice those sounds as much anymore.
“You muscle through,” Lorenzini said.
At Saint Joseph Central, Principal William Critell visited Fort Wayne schools that were recently renovated to learn from their construction experience. As expected, there have been glitches, but overall the process has been “like watching an orchestra,” he said.
Crews wait until after the school day to begin working on the elementary school, and the construction schedule took special education students into consideration, Krebs said. She explained those children don't always adjust well to change.
Administrators at New Haven credited workers for maintaining a quiet environment during state testing and accommodating the school's need to keep the gym open until after basketball season ended.
“They know what environment they're working in,” said Dave Stinson, assistant principal at New Haven.
He and Murphy also credited students for their cooperation. Along with staying out of restricted areas, students emptied lockers when the storage units needed to be moved.
Educators are taking advantage of the situation, using it as a teaching tool. While Saint Joseph Central students might learn about construction terms – workers explained scale – high schoolers can connect the activity to jobs.
An art teacher at New Haven enlisted students to make an eyesore more welcoming. They painted a mural on a temporary wooden wall at the entrance.
Progress is visible at New Haven and Saint Joseph Central; the Fort Wayne school should be finished for the next school year. Sarah Smith's first-grade classroom is among those with fresh, bright paint, new flooring and storage areas for students' belongings. The neutral colors are more calming and less distracting than her previous red carpet and orange folding wall, she said.
“I love the dimmer on the lights,” Smith said, adding she lowers the lights after recess.
Knowing the construction period is relatively short helps those inconvenienced, as does knowing the end result, school leaders said.
At New Haven, renderings of the renovated building hang in hallways. Seeing images of the future school has excited students, Murphy and Stinson said.
They and Critell are glad the renovations are making schools appear more welcoming, both inside and out.
Critell has no doubt that Saint Joseph Central will be the “most gorgeous remodel in the district,” he said, noting previous design choices made the exterior look “like a jail.”