Toronto schools to begin new era on Sept. 3

TORONTO – Sept. 3 will usher in a new era for Gem City pupils, administrators and the community, as the city school district’s new building housing grades six through 12 finally opens its doors.

The $19 million, 84,000-square-foot structure, partially paid through by the Ohio Facilities School Commission and the city taxpayers – who voted nearly two-to-one to finance construction of a new high school in November 2010 – also will be open for the public to inspect during an open house scheduled for Sept. 29.

The state contributed 61 percent of the cost of the new building- situated on Dennis Way next to Karaffa Middle School – while Toronto taxpayers committed to a 37-year bond issue to finance the rest, which included renovations to the Toronto High School Stadium.

The Herald-Star was granted an exclusive tour of the building during its final phase of construction. Those entering the high school will discover a state-of-the-art structure, decades away from the former high school and built with the present and the future in mind.

The high-tech building will be completely “wi-fied,” with several computer labs, desktop and laptop computers and a media center – the new name for the library. It will be a completely energy-efficient building with room for expansion and growth. Windows are everywhere, with architects taking advantage of natural lighting to help cut down utility costs and letting the heat of the sun in while blocking the cold during winter months.

The building itself consists of two wings, with the “A” wing on the north side containing two floors of classrooms, with 12 on the top floor and 12 on the bottom floor.

There are two main entrances with double doors – one set on the north side and the other on the south side. The north side will be the main entrance, where visitors will have no choice but to enter the central office and administrative wing before being allowed into the school, according to Maureen Taggart, school principal and communications coordinator.

“These (doors) will force people to come in through the office, which I think is fantastic,” Taggart said of the safety measure.

The administrative wing on the south side contains the main reception area and the principal’s office, along with offices for the guidance counselor, the school psychologist, a conference room and a large area for the district nurse, Taggart said.

“If parents want to meet, we can have that meeting right here in the conference room,” she said.

While the administrative section will be carpeted, most of the school hallways and classrooms will use a high-tech tile. There also are windows – lots of windows throughout the building, many of them with a special feature, said Taggart.

“All of the classrooms have windows that open,” she said, adding a citizens’ focus study group insisted in having windows able to be opened. “They wanted exterior windows that opened. There are two windows per classroom.”

Also on the A wing, classrooms for grades six through eight will be situated on the bottom floor, while grades nine through 12 will be on the second floor, Each classroom has an accented wall, which is painted a different color than the other three walls. The upper floor will also host labs needed for upperclass study, such as life skills, chemistry, physics and life sciences, added Taggart.

“The building (in the student wing) also is equipped with an elevator for handicapped accessibility,” Taggart said.

Glenn Sands, superintendent for Hammond Construction Co., the main contractor for the project, said the building will have 20 restrooms for pupils and faculty members. Another energy-efficient feature in the restrooms are lights that come on when a person enters a room and turn off shortly after a person has left.

Sands and Taggart both agreed the building is energy-efficient enough that “We are aiming for silver certification,” said Taggart, adding silver certification is a grade on a scale designating energy efficiency of a structure.

All the furnishings, including desks, chairs and tables, come with construction, although some items will be saved and transferred to the new building, she said.

The south, or “B” wing, will include most of the common areas, such as the cafetorium, the gym, the media center, band rooms, a weight room, the kitchen, a computer room and other group activity areas, Taggart said.

The bleachers for the gym have yet to be installed and crews are busy completing the final sanding of the floor. Next to the media center is the computer lab, Taggart said.

“We’re calling it the media center because it’s a full-service computer lab with 30 laptop computers with projection and an interactive white board,” she said, adding the media center also will include 15 desktop computers along with library books and storage rooms. “There’s also a music storage room where our students can broadcast live news segments throughout the building.”

The cafetorium will include a stage complete with state-of-the-art lighting, dressing rooms and a backstage area where props and other items needed for plays and assemblies can be stored. The cafetorium has enough seating for 240 pupils at one time, enabling two lunch periods divided by grade levels, Taggart added.

The kitchen is significantly larger than in the previous high school, with most of the cooking furnishings already installed and all brand new, Taggart said.

Also new is a spacious weight room, she added.

“The athletic department already has raised $30,000 for the new weight room,” said Taggart, adding weights weren’t paid for by the state but by private donations.

In the main hallway halfway between the two wings is an outdoor alcove that Taggart envisions being turned into a green, landscaped space where students can relax and learn outdoors.

The front of the building will contain the parking area, with 97 total parking spaces on a paved surface, and five handicapped spaces in front. Limited parking in back will be for custodians, cooks and others working in the building. An additional 20 spaces will be found in a graveled parking lot is located on the school’s south side, Taggart said.

The front of the building past the parking lot will mostly consist of green space, and “There will be a few trees going in,” according to Sands, adding there are “biocells” in the green space to help control rain runoff.

Taggart said the photos currently lining the former high school of classes of years past will include newly painted frames and will be hung in the main hallway of the new building.

Taggart is confident Toronto students and pupils will know they are special when they walk into the new building Sept. 3.

“I think when our students and pupils walk into a building like this they will know their community supports them and wants the best for their future,” she said.