South High renovations hailed

February 20, 2002

South High renovations hailed


When Ashley Thomas graduates from South Hagerstown High School in June, she will leave a different school than the one she entered nearly four years ago.

"It's so much better," said Ashley, 17. "I remember sitting in Spanish class when everyone would push out the windows and lean out to get cool. It's not like that anymore."

Central air conditioning is but one of the many changes to South High.

The $18.9 million renovation - the largest such project in county history - has transformed the outdated 46-year-old school into a comfortable, attractive facility equipped with cutting-edge technology, said Dennis McGee, facilities manager for the Washington County Board of Education.

Frederick County, Md., is spending $43 million to build a similarly equipped new high school the size of South High, which was renovated at a cost of about $115 per square foot, McGee said.


"It's kind of a shrine to everything that's good in the South End of Hagerstown," Principal Michael Shockey said Friday while leading a tour of the revamped school.

Space in the 163,959-square-foot school was reconfigured for efficiency. South High can now accommodate about 400 more students than the 850 currently enrolled, Shockey said.

The extensive renovation began in 1998 and will be completed this spring when paving and grading can be done outdoors, said Denis Rocco, construction specialist for the Board of Education.

A digital computer security system will also be installed, Rocco said.

Robert Asbury of BMK Architects in Frederick, Md., designed a state-of-the-art building that retains only the exterior look of the old school.

"When people drive by, it still looks like South High. I think that's important to the community," Shockey said.

But inside the school, "There isn't one area that wasn't gutted and redone," Rocco said.

General contractors Perini Construction Inc. of Hagerstown and Waynesboro Construction of Frederick did the work in two phases.

Crews gutted the facility, removed asbestos and installed new insulated walls, ceilings, floors, energy efficient windows, doors, central air conditioning, classroom fixtures and plumbing, heating, electrical and sprinkler systems, Rocco said.

Once made up of multiple buildings, South High is now one large, sunny facility boasting amenities ranging from a cappuccino machine in the cafeteria and sound-proof recording studios in the band room to a climate controlled greenhouse and 10 computer labs.

The facility is completely handicapped accessible with an elevator and ramps.

Large new lockers line hallways walled with shiny ceramic tile. Bathrooms have been added and updated. New seats and lighting and sound systems were installed in the auditorium. A top-notch weight training center was established in space once occupied by the old stage in the gymnasium.

The gym features new flooring, lighting, scoreboards and a lobby with large bathrooms, ticket and concession stands.

The remodeled cafeteria/kitchen is set up like a food court with five stations serving menu items ranging from pizza, nachos and homemade soups and desserts to deli sandwiches, stuffed potatoes and grilled chicken Caesar salads.

A sprawling counseling center offers private rooms for counseling sessions and a variety of college and career resource materials.

Two spacious art rooms link to a central photography darkroom and computer graphics center. These rooms overlook an airy new media center, which was built on the old school's central courtyard.

"It's a different world," art teacher and former South High student Don Viar said.

Students, teachers and administrators worked behind plastic walls as heavy equipment demolished old buildings and graded land before crews could build anew. Teachers and students shuffled classrooms to accommodate work crews. They dealt with noise, dust and grime for years.

They chronicled the renovation experience on the South High Web site with pictures taken monthly throughout the project.

They rarely complained, and there was no vandalism during the construction process, Shockey said.

"The community coming together on this thing has been amazing," he said. "It kind of defines the character of the South End."

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