Editor’s note: This article is the third in a series covering various components of the spring DeForest Area School District referendums. Each weekly article will delve into specific pieces of the planned projects and funds.
When DeForest Area High School Principal Machell Schwarz looks at her school now, she sees a division between newer parts of the building and portions that haven’t been touched in years. But not only do the more recently updated areas offer better support for instruction, students are also more excited to be in those spaces, according to Schwarz.
Included in the plans for the district’s $125 million facility referendum are multiple changes and additions for the high school, including a new pool, three-court gym and field improvements, expanded parking, renovations to core classrooms and the relocation of the main office. Schwarz said one of the main issues the high school has currently is limited space in common areas, like the cafeteria and library.
“They’re just not big enough to accommodate the students we have right now and we know the enrollment is going to grow based on numbers at the elementary level,” Schwarz said. “… By addressing the issues in the common areas, that also frees up a little bit more classroom space for us, too.”
According to Schwarz, the building’s most recent renovation was in 2015 when the STEAM (science-technology-engineering-art-mathematics) wing was added. Before that, the high school’s office area was refashioned about seven years ago, and the performing arts center was built in 2002.
“Other than that, a lot of the building is pretty old,” Schwarz said.
As Schwarz sees the school now, boundaries exist between the newer areas, like the STEAM section, and the older spaces, which mostly include core classrooms. There’s issues with student traffic flow in certain spots. Teachers have to shuffle in and out of classrooms during the day to teach different courses that require apparatus only available in particular rooms.
“Our STEAM area is beautiful,” Schwarz said. “It’s got a lot of light. The kids are excited to be in that area… I’m hoping that’s the sort of atmosphere the rest of the building will have if we get the referendum to pass and the renovations finished. It will be a much more open, inviting, lighted area that kids can feel comfortable in and be proud of.”
Schwarz hopes the referendum projects will completely refurbish areas like the science wing, in order to support current curriculum better.
“Right now, our teachers are moving around based on what courses they teach, because we only have so many classrooms that you can teach physical science, for example, at a time,” Schwarz said. “… It’s a bit of a juggling act, trying to schedule everything in and make sure everybody’s got a room that works.”
In addition, the conceptual plans outline creating larger spaces within the high school to accommodate student groups for events like class meetings, guest speaker events and other combined-class activities. Other changes include relocating the main office to the circle drive entrance of the building, which is where many visitors believe they are supposed to enter, according to Schwarz.
“… That looks more like the front of the building, that’s where our large parking lots are and so that’s where most people funnel through,” Schwarz said of the circle drive entrance. “… I think it will help with security and making things even more secure.”
Additional parking is another piece of the referendum plan for the high school Schwarz said is important. The changes would also address traffic flow at the building. While people might not envision those things when they think about problems caused by enrollment growth, parking and traffic flow are already issues at the high school, according to Schwarz.
Changes for athletics and community uses
Furthermore, the referendum plans incorporate a new pool for the high school. According to Schwarz, issues with the current pool, constructed in 1969, have been arising for years.
“I’ve been here for nine years and I know it’s been a topic for at least that long,” she said. “Every year there’s some situation with the pool. We know that it’s sinking in one corner. There have been issues off and on with filters, ventilation, all sorts of things that we’ve been able to band-aid… but we know at some point that just isn’t going to work anymore.”
DeForest Area High School Athletic Director Mike McHugh described the pool as one of the most used facilities at the building – it’s used not only during physical education classes and swim team practices, but also during summer programs and by the DeForest Aquatic Club.
The new pool would have eight lanes, as opposed to six like the current facility. It would also be deep enough for diving activities, which would allow for the high school to host the conference swim meet.
“It’s been a long time that we’ve been able to host anything but a dual,” McHugh said, adding the pool’s current viewing area is also not ideal for hosting larger events.
Schwarz said a new pool would present opportunities for additional community use. She envisions partnering with other groups to offer programs like senior swims, aerobics and other pool activities. Currently, where the pool is situated in the school and other limitations reduce the number of community usages.
If the referendums pass, there would also be field improvements made at the high school, which would be another game changer, according to McHugh. He said there are a lot of struggles associated with the current fields – there’s only one practice field for soccer with three teams in need of space and two fields for both baseball and softball, with three teams each.
“Practice nights become a real struggle and I don’t think our kids have the opportunities they should get,” McHugh said.
McHugh said the referendum projects could allow for the fields to be lighted, which would enable them to be used for two practices each night. Community organizations, such as the home talent and American Legion baseball leagues, could also benefit from having those fields lighted, according to McHugh.