DECATUR — It has been a long process since the first High School Task Force meeting in February 2009.

That first evening, more than 100 people met to discuss what to do to bring Decatur’s two public high school buildings up to date, then over the course of several months, narrowed down the options and presented them to the public. In 2010, volunteers and district leaders from all of Macon County led a campaign to pass a 1 percent sales tax increase.

That sales tax benefits all Macon County schools, apportioned according to enrollment. Extensive renovations to Eisenhower High School began in spring 2011 and are now nearly complete. An open house will be 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18.

Project manager Phil Hazenfield, an Eisenhower graduate, is used to showing off the construction to district employees and the media and is ready to show off the complete, or mostly complete, building.

“We have an equal number of Eisenhower and MacArthur graduates working on it,” he joked on a recent tour. “And they’re getting along great. No rivalries whatsoever.”

Students are slated to start classes at the new Eisenhower on Jan. 22, after an extended winter break to allow district staff to move. Eisenhower will move from its temporary home on Mound Road to the newly renovated building; MacArthur will move from its Fairview Avenue location to Mound Road so that renovations can begin at its building. New construction at MacArthur has been under way for some time.

Some of the design details have been changed at Eisenhower from the original plans, sometimes to stay within budget, sometimes due to unforeseen difficulties uncovered during renovations. One of those was the discovery that the walls were supported by the ceiling system, requiring more extensive teardown and rebuilding than originally planned, BLDD Architects’ John Whitlock said earlier this year.

Some expensive renovations were never in the plans, though some may think they were.

“We don’t have a swimming pool,” Hazenfield said. “I keep hearing that rumor.”

A swimming pool was one of the suggestions early in the High School Task Force process, before any decisions had been made, and was discarded long ago. What the new building does have is geothermal heating and cooling, with control units in each classroom to allow teachers some control over classroom temperatures.

A geothermal system takes advantage of the constant temperature in the Earth’s crust for cooling and heating, saving money on utility costs for the expansive high school.

“The building is 24,000 square feet,” said Mike Sotiroff, director of buildings and grounds. “We’ll see an increase in utilities (overall), but the cost per square foot will go down considerably. It’s not going to be something we’re not able to manage.”

The amenities also include a recording studio and broadcast studio, a student commons with a small stage and a food court called The Servery for meals. Science rooms are state of the art. Each grade level has its own area with its own assistant principal and counselor.

“It’s to create a college atmosphere,” Hazenfield said, “so when they go to college, it won’t seem so foreign to them.”

One-to-one computing, with each student issued a laptop or iPad, will bring the school into the 21st century, and eventually their textbooks will be electronic, too. That will save money and trees and keep texts up-to-the-minute, rather than the paper textbooks that are replaced only every few years. Teachers have received their laptops already, while students will get theirs in August.

Instead of the curtain wall, which let in cold during the winter and heat during the summer, the outside of the building is brick.

“It’s not as much work to maintain,” Sotiroff said. “The window wall was ugly the day it was built.”For more information on the renovations at Eisenhower and MacArthur high schools, visit www.dps61.org.

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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Herald & Review.

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