CHOCTAW — Choctaw Middle School Principal JeanAnn Gaona is in love with her new school.
“You can literally walk into the building and just feel relaxed,” she said Tuesday, the first day of school in the Choctaw-Nicoma Park School District.
Gaona said the original middle school was built in the 1930s and had additions built through the 1980s.
“And it looked like that,” she said.
While visiting classrooms Tuesday, Gaona said she heard comments such as, “It's so big; it's so pretty,” and her personal favorite, “It smells so good.”
Gaona said the architect listened to teachers and considered the needs of staff and students when designing the building. All are pleased with the outcome, she said.
She said she wanted a lot of light and areas that bring the outdoors in.
“We put native sandstone throughout the building,” she said. “In the commons area there are walls of glass. There is so much natural light, not just florescent. It doesn't look institutionalized.”
Gaona said the middle school concept is to make each student feel like they belong to a small group, a school within a school, almost. She said the new building enhances that concept.
“It's 110,000 square feet, but they're not going to feel like they're lost in some mall,” she said.
Choctaw Middle School is one of two new schools in the district this school year. Nicoma Park Elementary School also was rebuilt and opened to students Tuesday.
“It's a gorgeous new building,” school district Superintendent Jim McCharen said.
McCharen said every building in the district received some level of renovation. The district's seven remaining schools have new classrooms, new library media centers or new cafeterias.
The work was funded through part of a $70 million bond issue that patrons passed with 86 percent of the vote in December 2008.
Choctaw High School gained a third wing for its performing arts center. A new science building has 10 state-of-the-art science classrooms, McCharen said.
At most schools, technology infrastructure has been upgraded, and the district is adding instructional technology such as Smartboards, computers and software.
Athletic facilities also have been upgraded at the high school and middle school.
McCharen said the district is building for growth. He expects to have about 5,300 students when enrollment counts are taken in several weeks. That will be between 150 and 200 new students for this school year, he said.
“We're very pleased our projects were completed,” McCharen said. “When you embark on as many projects as we did, there's always a risk they won't be completed in time. But all of our students are in their new classrooms in the new buildings and where they are supposed to be.
“Not everything is perfect, but it was a good first day of school. Everything went very well, and we're very pleased,” he said.