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Changes abound at Jefferson High School

September 21, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

SHENANDOAH JUNCTION, W.Va. - The Jefferson High School that the local community has known for 33 years is starting to give way to a renovated facility that is getting high marks from students.

A sparkling new auditorium gives a hint to what the new Jefferson High will be.

The auditorium had seen its share of wear over the years and was gutted to allow construction crews to install new seats and flooring, increase the size of the stage and make other improvements.

The auditorium also boasts improvements like a revamped sound system, wireless computer systems to operate equipment and remote-controlled cameras that can be used to film events on the stage.

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When spotlights were used to light performances on the stage in the past, the lights used to be directed through two small concrete blocks at the rear of the auditorium, said Principal Sheri Hoff.

The openings were in an upper level room that was accessed by a ladder, Hoff said.

Now, students working on stage productions have a new sound room that gives them three times the space. The sound room extends from the back wall of the auditorium and is accessed by a new stairway.

When PowerPoint presentations were made in the auditorium, equipment used to be placed on crates on the floor.

Now the presentations are made with a system that is lowered from the ceiling. It is controlled by a wireless laptop computer, said Jefferson High student C.J. McNutt, who has helped install some of the equipment in the auditorium.

"You can take the laptop anywhere in the room, out in the hallway, and it will stay attached to it," McNutt said.

"It's good stuff," he said.

The improvements are part of a $15.3 million renovation of the school along Flowing Springs Road that started in January.

There has been much concern over the years about how to position the school system for expected student population growth, and much of the concern has been focused on Jefferson High.

In recent years, problems started to surface at the school such as deteriorating wooden doors, and torn and broken seats in the auditorium. The school opened with 900 students and today has about 1,600 students - making it one of the largest in the state. At times, the school has been about 200 students over capacity.

The renovations are being completed to make the school equal to a new high school that is being planned next to the Huntfield development along U.S. 340 south of Charles Town.

The renovations at Jefferson High are expected to be completed by August 2007, which is when the high school by Huntfield is expected to be ready, Hoff said.

The new auditorium has a black ceiling, creating an interesting contrast with the maroon seats and light walls. Acoustic controls have been added to the room to improve sound, and seating has been increased from about 250 to 500 seats.

"You wouldn't believe it's the same room," Hoff said.

Outside, a new bus loop that will allow school officials to better manage traffic flows is taking shape and sites are being prepared in front of the building for a new media center and band room, Hoff said.

The media center - the home of the library, computers and other resources - will give the school three times the space it has for those areas now, and the band room will be about twice the size of the current one, Hoff said.

The auditorium was completed over the summer, Hoff said.

In coming weeks, workers are expected to tackle projects such as transforming a storage and office area into expanded space for the cafeteria, which will allow it to have another 100 seats, Hoff said.

Demolition of front walls to make way for the band room and media center will be completed during this school year and much of that work will be completed on weekends when students are away, Hoff said.

"This is the year of flexibility and adaptability. Change is difficult for anyone. But so far it's been a smooth transition," Hoff said.

Students said the combination of classes and ongoing construction has been easy to deal with.

About the only thing that seems to bother them is having to park their cars at the Ninth Grade Center while the bus loop is being built.

"It's not really different," senior Meredith Hoffman said of school operations since the renovation began. "The auditorium is gorgeous," she said.

The renovation will also include a new exterior design, new gymnasium, and four science classrooms.

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