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Watauga’s New High School Combines Modern Convenience, ’Green’ Features

Mon July 12, 2010 - Southeast Edition
Eric Olson

By Eric Olson


The finishing touches are now being applied to the sparkling new Watauga High School, a project designed to replace a facility opened 45 years ago. Located on the eastern edge of Boone, N.C., the new school, with a price tag approaching $80 million, is nestled in a picturesque valley surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Work began with the groundbreaking in September 2007 on 93 acres off U.S. Highway 421, just to the southeast of the boulevard’s intersection with N.C. 194. The location, known as the Perkinsville site, has enough room for several athletic fields and parking areas, besides the school itself.

Approximately 1,364 students attended classes in the old school, located only a few miles away, during the just-completed 2009-2010 school year. The old Watauga High, opened in 1965, will be razed and the site used as a new recreation center for Watauga County residents.

“The old school was pretty full and near its capacity,” said Marty Hemric, superintendent of the Watauga County School System. “Our population has actually been on a decline and is projected to be flat for the next decade, so building the new school was not due to overcrowding. It was more that the infrastructure and the technology of that facility had just reached the end of its useful life.”

The new school can hold up to 1,600 students, a number that Hemric doesn’t anticipating hitting in the near future. However, should the total enrollment exceed that number, he said, the school’s design allows quite easily for additions.

“We hope that it will be in use for 75-plus years and we think that that will occur due to the design’s adaptability and flexibility,” he said.

The new facility, the only high school in this largely rural county, boasts 280,368 sq. ft. (26,047 sq m) of space on three levels. The main building has three wings that house the school’s more than 100 classrooms and other educational spaces. There is also a gymnasium that holds up to 1,400 people, as well as a smaller, auxiliary gym, a 709-seat auditorium (with a balcony) for the school’s various performing arts and a large commons area.

Within the commons area is a spacious cafeteria that offers both conventional seating, as well as bistro-type seating, Hemric said.

The cafeteria — indeed the whole school — offers wireless internet as all Watauga High students, for the first time, will be equipped with laptops in the 2010-11 school year.

“Within the classrooms, we will offer desks that are boomerang-shaped in order to allow for multiple configurations so that students can work in a collaborative setting,” Hemric explained.

He also is quite proud of the many “green” features of the new school, including using construction products that are non-toxic to students, teachers and the environment.

“It is comforting having a facility where you know that all the products that went into the construction emit very low levels of oxidants,” he said. “From the wallboard to the paints to the lighting it is a safe environment that will not hinder students’ ability to stay alert and engaged. Research has consistently shown that these things improve academic performance.”

Another unique feature of the school is the installation of two 60,000-gal. containers underneath the front entrance of the main building. These two tanks are designed to serve as catch basins in order to reuse rainwater coming off the roof and from the parking areas.

Finally, more than 200 geothermal wells have been placed under the baseball field to help heat and cool the facility. Hemric hopes they will pay for themselves relatively quickly.

“These conservation measures were very important to everyone at the school,” he added.

Hemric credited Shuller Ferris Lindstrom Architects, which has offices in Fayetteville, Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C., with helping the school system realize the many unique design conceptions that it wanted for the new facility.

A collaboration between two North Carolina-based construction companies, Barnhill Contracting, headquartered in Tarboro; and Vannoy Construction, from nearby Jefferson, kept the school’s construction largely ahead of schedule despite a particularly harsh winter in 2009-10.

On the outside of the main school building is a football/soccer/lacrosse field encircled with a running track and ringed with seating for more than 4,000 spectators. The field will utilize an artificial turf similar to that being used at nearby Kidd-Brewer Stadium, home to the Appalachian State University athletic teams. Adjacent to the field will be a large field house and concessions building.

Nearby, a baseball/softball field has been built, also with a field house and concession area. Rounding out Watauga High’s athletic facilities are six brand-new tennis courts.

The school also will come equipped with a $110,000 greenhouse that Hemric hoped will be able to provide produce for the school’s cafeteria through hydroponic gardening.

Most all of the work was finished on the outside of the school by the time that Boone’s notoriously fierce winter weather set in last December. With the town situated at an elevation of just over 3,300 ft., the winds and snow can be brutal on any construction project in the area, but despite that, the new high school actually remained ahead of schedule, Hemric reported.

“It was our worst winter as far as snowfall amounts go,” he added. “That did hamper us somewhat but the project was consistently many days ahead of schedule. I had worked with Barnhill and Vannoy in other schools and that is what you come to expect from them.”

The month of June is being used mainly to install the running track at the football stadium and for the moving of materials from the old school to the new facility, he said. A formal dedication is scheduled for the end of July and students in grades 9 through 12 will begin classes at the new Watauga High on Aug. 11.

Although Hemric only became Watauga County’s school superintendent less than two years ago, he lauded the more than seven years that the school board and the community put in to plan the new high school.

“What they came up with, after looking at a number of other facilities, was a creative 21st century design which will support the programming we currently use to prepare kids for a successful future,” he added. CEG

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