Howard school meets future

Education: The new Reservoir High in Fulton, with its many amenities, might seem more like a small college than a big secondary school.

August 04, 2002|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

When Howard County taxpayers consider the escalating costs of building schools for the system's fast-growing student population, the price tag on the latest, Reservoir High, really gets them going.

$34 million? How much could bricks and books and bland tiling cost?

But this is not the low-slung, awash-in-fluorescent-lighting, rickety-bleachers high school you attended years ago.

If Fulton's Reservoir High School is any indication, and educators say it is, $34 million buys a lot more than the little neighborhood school you remember.

From art suites with galleries to spacious school stores to asbestos-free tiling, fiber-optic wiring, televisions in the hallways, thousands of information/data jacks, skylights, elevators and disabled-designated lockers, Reservoir High - scheduled to open this month - is more like a small college than a big secondary school.

Compared with most schools built years ago, Reservoir High is bigger, smarter, safer and more user-friendly.

"It's a very student-centered school," said Adrianne Kaufmann, Reservoir's principal. "To some extent, the older philosophy was you teach content. And now the philosophy is, you teach students."

The designs for Reservoir's three floors, 168 classrooms, 10 acres of playing fields and 241,000 square feet began with planning meetings run by more teachers and administrators than architects and construction workers. Each item on their education wish lists was taken into consideration and, if possible, worked into the blueprints.

The new school will hold an estimated 1,300 students, but will open with only freshmen and sophomores.

Biology rooms are on one floor and physics and chemistry rooms on another to keep schedules flowing freely and to keep teachers of similar subjects near each other for planning, support and team instruction.

There are more auxiliary spaces - project rooms, seminar rooms and teacher preparation rooms - freeing space in the classroom for teaching.

Classrooms have desks for the disabled, and 3 percent of the lockers are specially constructed for disabled students. There is also an occupational-physical therapy suite.

Even the sun-bathed lobby-commons area was designed with more space to accommodate students' needs.

The school store and student government offices are in their own spaces, with storage closets bigger than some elementary school Gifted and Talented Program classes. A built-in concession stand is between the gym and the auditorium. "That's something you don't normally have in a school," said Jan Sadowski of Dustin Enterprises, who oversaw construction of the $34,142,000 school. "But it's something that you need."

Concession stands, school stores, state-of-the-art weight rooms and dance labs - all are necessary these days, school construction experts say.

"The form is different because the function is different," said Yale Stenzler, executive director of Maryland's Public School Construction Program.

In plain English: Times have changed.

This generation's high-schoolers take marine biology in addition to traditional science classes. They can sign up for graphics communications and production technology instead of shop. Home economics has become "food and nutrition, textiles and fashion design."

Art class is more than basic watercolors. The art suite includes a photo studio with a darkroom, a kiln, an outdoor patio for natural lighting and a gallery.

Even physical education looks different. Classes are held in the school's auxiliary gym to prevent wear and tear on the bigger, glossier gym. Written reports are required for a passing grade in physical education.

"It's not just roll out the balls and blow a whistle anymore," said Kaufmann.

The weight-training room rivals a small-town gym, and the school has a day care center for employees' children.

When the parents of Reservoir's incoming freshmen entered high school, schools were moving from manual typewriters to electric ones, Stenzler said, and they may have had three or four telephones in the entire building.

Reservoir High has 230 phone lines and more than 1,300 electronic data jacks. A mile of fiber optic cable and six miles of video cable runs through the school.

It will take a crew the size of a basketball team a week to stock the media center's shelves with the 18,000 items students will have to choose from this school year.

Classrooms are equipped with LCD monitors and 27-inch color televisions that connect through phone lines to a "media distribution center," in what used to be called the library.

"If a teacher wants to show a video at a certain time, we put it in the machine up here and they completely control it from their classrooms, using their classroom telephones," said Binki McKenna, who heads the media center and all its myriad uses, including a student-run TV production studio.

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