High-tech school to open

August 22, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

The future is bright, and it's at River Hill High School, a $30 million technologically advanced building that has already staked a place on the information superhighway.

The Clarksville school on Route 108 -- where Wilde Lake High School students will go for two years while their building is demolished and replaced -- opens this fall as a prototype for future county high schools.

Outside, the tricolored brick school looks much like any other. But inside, fiber optics and a communications network run throughout, and video monitors and computer portals are in every pastel classroom and hallway.

"This is what will work out the bugs for other high schools," Daniel Jett, director of high schools, said recently on a short tour. "This could only get better."

While high schools of the past have been organized by academic departments, River Hill planners built the school with four clusters in mind: math, science and technology; humanities, including foreign languages, English and social studies; ninth grade; and physical education and the arts.

Each cluster is denoted by different-colored tiles -- the ninth-grade cluster, for example, is green, while the humanities is marked by a brown earth tone and the technology area has blue tiles. The physical education and arts cluster is not finished.

There are also two "areas": a student information center (formerly known as the media center), which includes journalism classrooms for the newspaper, yearbook and broadcasting, and a spacious student dining area (formerly the cafeteria) with a master kitchen.

The two-story, 254,125 square-foot school has two 15,500 square-foot "penthouses" the size of eight single-family homes where mechanical, heating and air-conditioning equipment is stored. The school, which can hold 1,400 students, is one of the most technologically advanced in the state and is wired to meet future technology changes.

Instead of teachers having to roll out bulky carts with a television and videocassette recorder to show programs, every classroom has a color video monitor and a handset on which teachers can dial a program. Every classroom will also have a video camera that can feed discussions in one room to the next -- or even to other county schools.

During science class, students will be able to punch data into laptop computers, and teachers through a local area network can check the results immediately. Science classes will have a lecture area and a lab area.

Among other highlights:

* There are three gym areas, including a spacious room filled with barbells, bars and weightlifting benches. The main gym has 1,500 seats, a separate entrance, a built-in concession stand and an arched dome similar to the University of Maryland's Cole Field House.

* The special education room has its own bathroom facilities. Wilde Lake will use the yellow-painted room as a "contract room" in which students who are suspended can attend school in a self-contained classroom.

* There are two auditoriums, including a smaller "blackbox theater" -- a rehearsal area that doubles as a dance studio. The larger auditorium, still under construction, will seat 750 people. Stage lighting will be controlled by computers and can be easily moved to other venues.

There is also a specially designed area that students can use to build props and background settings. The area has an oversized doorway so that large scenery can be easily rolled out onstage.

* Two art studios have been built with ample cathedral windows that let in plenty of sunlight -- a must for painters. There are at least four rooms where band and orchestra members can practice and two separate rooms for band and choral classes.

Last week, workers scurried to finish the auditorium, to be completed by the end of October, and gymnasium areas, which will be finished by late September. Wilde Lake students will have to take their soccer and football matches on the road because the fields won't be ready until next spring.

Construction and school officials boast they were able to build the school for about $79 per square foot, while the going rate in other counties is upward of $90 per square foot.

"You won't see another high school being built under $80," said Jan Sadowski, River Hill's construction manager. "We got the bargain now."

Planners were able to keep costs low by cutting corners. For example, instead of concentrating mechanical equipment in one area, they placed equipment in two areas to reduce the use of pipes.

"This is an inexpensive way of building a structure like this," said Mr. Sadowski, a vice president with Dustin Enterprises.

"You can't beat it," he said. "It's a bargain. We probably won't be able to get another building under $80."

When Wilde Lake students and staff return to their new school in two years, River Hill will become the ninth high school in the county.

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