Farewell, Wilde Lake, hello, River Hill High

September 11, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

Big. That's the word Wilde Lake High School students and staff use for River Hill High School in Clarksville, their home for two years as their school undergoes a $20 million demolition and reconstruction project.

"What's not to like about the new school?" asks Principal Bonnie Daniel, standing in the student dining area with a walkie-talkie in hand as she kept a watchful eye on her students. "It's really big, very spacious. We're thoroughly enjoying windows and the sunlight. Teachers are thoroughly enjoying having walls and doors. There's a lot of technology we have to adjust to, but a lot of it's not here yet."

Wilde Lake was a 23-year-old building that was badly insulated and built during an era when open space classrooms were seen as the wave of the future. The school had no windows and no walls to keep out noise from hallways.

In contrast, River Hill High School is a prototype of the county's future high schools -- a two-level, state-of-the-art building ready for the technological changes that will take place in the next century, equipped with phones and color monitors in every classroom.

Two weeks into the new school year, students, especially freshmen, were in awe of the building, where one drawback was getting lost in the pastel hallways and stairwells.

"It's beautiful," said Elizabeth Johnson, a 13-year-old freshman as she sat in the dining area Friday. "I love it."

Her first impressions? "It was really big and a lot of people, a lot more than middle school," she said. "Everyone was friendly and outgoing."

She was especially impressed with the ninth-grade cluster, an area designated for freshmen to take classes. "I like it because you don't get lost," she said.

Despite the freshly painted hallways and polished furniture, some upperclassmen say they'd rather be at Wilde Lake, with its smaller size and open-space architecture that allowed students and staff to see one another throughout the day.

"I miss the old building," said Dana Jacobson, a 17-year-old senior. "Since this was my last year, I miss the openness and seeing all your friends throughout the day. The media center was the middle of the whole school. I'd rather finish my year at the older school."

Varsity football player Eric McDuffie, a 16-year-old junior, is wistful about not being able to play games on home turf. Students can't play on River Hill's fields until spring to allow grass to grow. Athletes practice at fields around the county, including Howard Community College and Wilde Lake Middle School.

"It's a disappointment to me," Eric said. "I really wanted to play homecoming here."

Aadila Desai, a 15-year-old junior, said that River Hill is "a nice building, but it doesn't have the spirit of Wilde Lake -- not yet, anyway."

Giordano Filipponi, a 16-year-old junior, complained about the long bus ride to school from Hickory Ridge. But he added that the school is "in the middle of nowhere, so you can't get in trouble. You can't go anywhere, you have to stay here."

Teachers and staff say they like the new surroundings -- a big change from their old school.

"It's exciting to start with new settings, new materials," said Blondelle Hunter, a Wilde Lake business teacher for 24 years. "It's just hectic right now. It's a matter of getting used to it, in addition to meeting the expectations of the new academic year."

Like the students, she misses not being able to see her fellow teachers throughout the day. Although teachers at Wilde Lake shared a large planning area near the front office, they're now scattered around River Hill in three lounge and planning spaces.

"Everybody's so spaced out and there are so many places where people can be," Ms. Hunter said. "There are some people I haven't seen since the first day of school."

The intimacy of Wilde Lake is lost, agrees Joyce Starnes, an instructional assistant of 18 years. "You don't see people as you used to when it's all compact. But the atmosphere is really good. The kids are impressed with their new surroundings. They have doors on their new classrooms, so we don't have people in the halls. There's more control here."

Guidance counselor Judy Jenkins remembers the summer, when counselors, secretaries and administrators shared one room as workers worked frantically to finish building the school.

"We had to wear dirty clothes, because when you left the building, you were dirty," she said. "If we left the room, you had to wear hard-toe shoes and hard hats. . . . We couldn't see anyone through the boxes."

But the suffering was well worth it "to have a ceiling that isn't painted black, to have windows and fresh air," she said. "All the natural light is wonderful."

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