Rejuvenating Renovation

After its initial renovation in 2001 and countless remodeling projects of schools in Clarke County School District, the time for Cedar Shoals’ refreshing remodeling has finally arrived. Staff, teachers and students alike are anticipating new paint, furniture, spaces and an overall enhanced learning environment. 

Though Cedar’s renovation project won’t officially begin until January 2024, the process is one of many phases. In fact, it’s one that’s been in the works for a while now, as planning alone requires focus through obtaining unique perspectives and delicate arrangement.

“It’s been 20 years or more since you’ve had anything done. So you’re in need of some substantial upgrades. But the key is going to be keeping you open and operating, all while getting the work done in a timely fashion,” John Gilbreath. Director of Facilities Planning and Construction in the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) department, said.

The main focus of the SPLOST department and Cedar’s administration is to include students and staff in the renovation process to ensure that their input matters in the outcomes. Cedar Shoals Principal Antonio Derricotte says that through meetings and frequent check-ins, he has facilitated opportunities for teachers and staff specifically to share their needs. 

“It’s about clarifying what the SPLOST project is actually about. We have open meetings where people can come and also voice their opinions and what they would like to see in terms of some things that may be missing or that other schools have that may be good for us,” Derricotte said. 

On Feb. 21, parents, community members and students were invited to a PTO meeting to hear an explanation of the process, timeline and possible changes the school will see in the next few years. The meeting also provided an opportunity for attendees to share suggestions and possible grievances relating to the current design with Gilbreath and an architectural team. 

CRUCIAL COMMUNICATION: Parents, teachers, students and staff fill the library for the informational PTO meeting discussing the upcoming building renovations. Attendees were able to use this as an opportunity to share their suggestions and learn more about what’s to come. Parent Erwin Greene expresses his belief in the importance of this exchange. “Teachers and students are the number one users of the facility, the stakeholders so to speak, and if the facility does not meet their needs, then the facility is essentially useless. The community is there to support the teachers and students,” Greene said. Photo by Chloe Smith.

“Community input is valuable. Athens is truly unique. Most counties, they have prototypical school designs, and they say, ‘Here’s what you’re gonna get.’ Yet here in Athens, everybody’s able to have their own input and give design suggestions on their individual school,” Gilbreath said.

Drama teacher Rosemary Milsap attended the meeting to push for fine arts inclusion in the upcoming renovations. Twenty years ago, the fine arts building was completed at the end of the rebuilding process, leaving whatever remained of funding to cover the many programs the building houses. This has left more recent additions to the fine arts programs, such as orchestra or dance, to be housed in rooms that weren’t originally designed for them. Milsap explains that the building was even left unfurnished 20 years ago due to a lack of funds. 

“I was in an absolute shock that out of dozens of lines of improvement, there was exactly one for fine arts and it was listed as ‘fine arts building improvements.’ That really scared and concerned me. It also put a fire under me to create my own document filled with dozens of lines and make sure that document was turned over to Gilbreath. We were able to get all of those requests to him and he was very responsive to them,” Milsap said.

SIGNIFICANT SUGGESTIONS: Drama teacher Rosemary Milsap points as she expresses her concerns at the PTO meeting regarding the renovations. Milsap is focused on fine arts inclusion in the renovation process. “Fine Arts not only provides a student that needs to learn math skills, or science skills but the whole student. I see us as focused on the social, emotional and full growth of the student,” Milsap said. Photo by Chloe Smith.

The importance of community input stretches out to everyone involved in the school. Parent Erwin Greene attended the same meeting, voicing concerns and desires for the upcoming changes. Greene says that the school system has done an adequate job at hearing these suggestions.

“In other projects such as this that I’ve been involved in, there have been ample recognitions and follow through of suggestions and ideas that have bubbled up from stakeholder input. The thing to remember is that CCSD has to balance all the suggestions against what can be afforded and properly maintained in the long run,” Greene said. 

The renovations aren’t just a fresh building facade but changes that will enhance teachers’ ability to instruct their students. Programs outside of academic classes like fine arts classes, agriculture and auto tech require specific, specialized facilities to ensure students are engaged and following curriculum. Programs will receive improved classrooms and better resources to aid them.

“The state gives us funding for the curriculum, and most of what we do in fine arts is curriculum based,” Milsap said. “I’d like to see them actually reconfigure some of the interior spaces. I’d love it if they would rethink the way these makeup and dressing rooms are right here or actually knock down these interior walls. It wouldn’t be any change to the footprint at all, but get rid of what separates the spaces and configure the area to be more user friendly.”

Christine Graziano, graphics and design teacher, has found some of the equipment for her class rendered entirely useless. Graphic design isn’t a program limited to computer programs and technology, something Graziano hopes the new building will recognize. 

“I think one of the most tragic things about some of the equipment I have is that I’m not able to use it. I have all this working equipment for screen printing, but I don’t have proper ventilation. When I use the chemicals, I need a vent to suck it out of the classroom so it’s not toxic. The thing that breaks my heart is that screen printing is using ink to make things like T-shirts, and it’s a set of skills that can be used for jobs,” Graziano said. “Screen printers are in demand and it’s a career you don’t need a college degree for.”

Potential classroom improvements will provide new resources and options for teachers, thus streamlining opportunities for a more comfortable student learning experience. Updates to furniture in classrooms intend to create a more inclusive and enjoyable environment for any student. 

“We have to be one of the only buildings that has one piece seating. So, if you are tall, if you are wide, those seats are not the most comfortable. If it’s not the most comfortable seating, is it really helping a kid achieve in the classroom? If you’re uncomfortable at your desk, you’re constantly moving. Are you really receiving what the teacher is teaching at that point?” Associate Principal of Operations Utevia Tolbert said.

The changes to classrooms will also provide dynamic ways for students to learn. Derricotte describes the classroom setting as something that can now be reconfigured. Much like the additions to furniture students can expect to see other aspects of the classroom provide for more engaging learning.

“You’ll get a chance to really internalize a classroom but won’t necessarily live by the classroom space based on the way you’ve seen or have had a chance to go through already. And so I think that’s going to be a great tipping point to being able to see that you’ll know that ‘Okay, this is my building. I can be proud because it doesn’t look like a traditional classroom that I’ve seen throughout my high school career or just throughout my schooling altogether,’” Derricotte said.

With such a large building with many needs, some projects just won’t work out. The renovations are focused on restoring and modernizing the building, not physically changing the footprint of the building, meaning layout changes aren’t possible. While collaborating on design changes, the administration and teachers set limitations on what’s possible.

“We more or less put it (ideas) into this huge document and went through it to say, ‘Okay, is this feasible? How could this work?’ One perfect example is we had one department ask for additional classroom space. But that’s not the purpose of the SPLOST project— it’s more or less taking your footprint and trying to work on your current boundaries,” Derricotte said. 

An exception to this concept is possible extensions to the cafeteria, and in turn the library above it. With hopes of adding extra space to reduce the amount of different lunch times and provide more quiet locations for students in the library, a 1,000 square foot addition to each end of the building is planned. 

“From a design standpoint, we looked at adding to the cafeteria downstairs, and also that would allow us to add some space up here (in the library) and then potentially doing an outdoor pavilion in the courtyard outside. That’s really kind of a major design standard,” Gilbreath said. 

Derricotte hopes that these changes will instill a sense of pride in students, teachers and the community, cultivating a school environment that everyone can thrive in to foster successful students.

“I want our building to be a welcoming environment where people are proud to say this is my school building. ‘Take a look at this,’ ‘Hey, I want to take a picture right there because this is my building.’ I want to show it off and I want people to have an appreciation for our space,” Derricotte said.

Chloe Smith

Senior Chloe Smith is a staff writer for Cedar BluePrints as well as the co-editor for the literary magazine, The Little Blue Book. Though she is uncertain of a career path, she is interested in psychology. Smith enjoys reading and music, and hopes to step out of her comfort zone this year. She loves meeting new people and branching out.

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