JOHNSON CREEK — Workers are moving in furniture and equipment and putting the final touches on Johnson Creek’s new middle/high school, which will serve students in grades 5-12.
Local families will get a sneak peek at their new school building during the open house for students Wednesday, Aug. 31, and classes will start Sept. 6. The grand opening and school dedication, to which the entire community is invited, will take place at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11.
The site has been under construction for the past two years, the school having been approved in 2014 in an $18.9 million referendum. It is located on the south side of County Highway B on 66 acres of property the School District of Johnson Creek already owned.
“It has been an exciting process,” said Michael Garvey, superintendent of the Johnson Creek schools. “Despite the challenges, it has been well worth it.
“We’ve had great partners here with our architect (TSP of Rochester, Minn.) and construction managers (Maas Brothers Construction of Watertown), and South Industries of Idaho), the dome builders, have been great to have on site,” Garvey said.
The superintendent said that all of the contractors have been working together closely. Everyone involved has learned through the process, from the educators and community decisionmakers to all of the tradesmen and specialists who have been part of the construction process, he said.
Also contributing to the project were NEXT Electric of Milwaukee, overseeing the electrical work; NAMI of Brookfield, overseeing the heating, ventilation and air conditioning; Payne and Dolan, handling the blacktop, and Wondra of Iron Ridge, doing the excavating.
“It’s a really unique project, so it required new ways of thinking,” Garvey said.
The school building project, which consists of five connected domes, has attracted a lot of attention from around the state and beyond due to its non-traditional construction.
This is the first school in the state to utilize the dome design, which aims to combine simplicity with energy efficiency. The many-layered and insulated concrete domes help to maintain a constant temperature inside the building.
The referendum that authorized this building followed four failed referenda. Each time, Garvey said, the district changed the plan and sought more efficient alternatives in order to find a project that the community would support.
This referendum did not include outside athletic facilities, like softball, baseball and football fields and the planned track.
Instead, community supporters have established a capital campaign, “One Team, One Dream,” to raise the $2.5 million needed to assure that those facilities are included on the new school site. That campaign is making steady progress toward that goal, with $815,000 raised so far and three big fundraisers set in the next couple of months.
Work on some of the athletic fields is expected to begin already this fall, but for now, student athletes will be using the existing athletic fields at the old school along State Highway 26.
On the new site, each dome is made up of several layers of concrete, insulating foam and steel.
After initial excavation, the dome construction process started with building the bases, then installing and inflating the domes, followed by insulation and then the building of the dome structure.
The front three domes each have large skylights to provide natural lighting, as well as windows in the sides.
“The domes still go all the way to the ground, but the stem walls are reinforced around the windows,” Garvey said.
The main public entrance is located on the north side of the property, with visitors entering a vestibule between the administration dome and the high school dome.
Visitors will have to be buzzed in, providing much higher security than the old school, where doors were necessarily left open at all times so students could come and go from outside trailer classrooms and what was formerly the district’s sole lunchroom in the elementary school.
Besides the central administration dome, the other domes include the gym dome, the cafetorium dome, and academic domes for the middle and high school core classes. Connecting hallways link all of the domes.
The administration dome includes offices, the school library (called the Flex Learning Lab) and shared spaces such as the band and choir room, graphics room and art room. Also in this area is a mechanicals room, with two shiny new boilers serving the entire school.
A T-shaped connection links the administration building to two other domes, the gym and the cafetorium.
Each academic dome has a large open section with low, but wide, student lockers, allowing students (and supervisors) to see over the top. This provides for security and uses the floor space efficiently.
The middle school and high school domes have a similar layout, with a secondary exterior entrance to the middle school’s academic dome, which will be open as students arrive to start their school day.
However, once the school day officially begins, all side doors will be locked and the main entrance will be the only one open to visitors, for security purposes.
Along the edges of the academic domes are the core classrooms.
“We no longer have students going out of the building, as in the old school. All of their classes will be right here,” Garvey said.
English, social studies and math classes and biology/chemistry labs are located in these academic domes, but students will go through hallways to other domes for classes such as Family and Consumer Economics, tech ed, the arts, and physics.
Each academic classroom has a learning wall with whiteboards that double as cupboards and locked storage below.
“We have already moved all our SMARTboards over from the other school,” Garvey said when the Daily Union toured Thursday.
The Flex Learning Lab includes not only a traditional library with books but also a Maker Space area with whiteboard-topped tables, a video production/media center, 1950s-style study booths updated with charging stations for electronics, and a collaboration booth where three to four people can work together.
Also in this dome are the band/choir room with a separate side room for music and instrument storage so students proceeding to private practice rooms no longer have to disrupt the entire band to pick up their instrument.
The graphics lab is a flexible space that will be used by art classes, Family and Consumer Education (FACE) classes doing fashion design, and the school newspaper and yearbook.
“In the old building, compatible uses weren’t necessarily together,” Garvey said.
The new two-station gym improves on the old high school’s single-station gym, which was too small to host wrestling meets or certain other athletic events. Also in the gym dome are athletic locker rooms and coaches’ rooms, a concession stand, regular and family-style restrooms, a custodial closet, IT closet and more storage.
Locker rooms are located on the north and south sides of the gym, and a hallway that can double as a walking path wraps around the gym and locker rooms. This will give people a place to get a little exercise while the gym is in use, and it should save wear on the gym floor, Garvey said.
Off the gym are a dedicated multipurpose room for wrestling practice and batting cages, similar to the multipurpose room at the old school without the ceiling leaks and the dungeonlike atmosphere. There’s also a fitness center that ultimately will be accessible to the public.
“We haven’t attacked the fitness area yet,” Garvey said. “With football practices taking place at the other school, we don’t desperately need this to be ready on the first day of school.”
The fitness area is designed to be self-contained, with separate doors open to the outside, its own restrooms and fire exit. This area can be opened up while keeping the gym locked.
Near the gym, there is a courtyard for students who want to take their lunches outside. Picnic tables for that space are in the works, those being one of the student projects set for this fall.
“Last year, the advanced woods students made our conference room table,” Garvey said. “Then our construction classes poured the base for our sign out front, using the same form liners the building is made out of. They’ll be building a roof for it as well this year, while the art department, which did the original design for the sign, will handle the painting.”
The stage is at the center of the cafetorium dome, with an opening just as large as the old school has, but with a proscenium (part of the stage that extends beyond the curtain) that stretches much further out into the audience area. It also has much more storage space behind the stage and in the wings.
The audience area can be set up for dining, or the lunch tables can be folded up and stored nearby so seating can be rearranged more traditionally for concert or theater events.
The cafetorium dome also is home to the FACE instruction area, which is set up to teach advanced culinary arts skills using commercial kitchen equipment and stainless steel tables.
There still is a smaller life skills area where special education and at-risk students can work on basic kitchen skills, as well.
“It’s like a little mini-apartment,” the superintendent said.
Additionally, this dome houses the technology education and physics departments, so physics students can make use of the tech ed labs.
There is a traditional metal shop, with a new spray booth, and a tech-ed office including 3D printing equipment.
The woods room will use the same equipment as was used in the old school, but the new room makes much more efficient use of space, Garvey said.
The main kitchen and receiving area are located on the back side of this dome, near the loading dock. With the opening of this school, this will become the main kitchen for the district, relegating the smaller elementary kitchen to a warming kitchen.
“We’ll have a split line here, with full meals and ala carte lines heading to two different cash registers,” Garvey said.
He also pointed out the pass-serve cupboards that will eliminate the traffic created by new and used trays heading into and out of the kitchen.
In addition, the connections going through the center of the domes leave room for building additions to take place in the future, if needed, Garvey said.
Out on the building grounds, excavators worked closely with the district to leave the soil in the correct condition for fields to be put in behind the domes.
“Fields construction will start soon,” Garvey said, “maybe as early as next week. We expect the base footwork for the new football/track complex to be done yet this fall.”
The district is waiting on the completion of a new sidewalk from the center of town out to the school.
“The sidewalk to the school building got tied up in the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) approval process,” he said. “It won’t be ready for the first day of school, but we will be working with parents to make sure all the students get to school safely. We still hope to get the approval so we can finish that project this fall.”
The superintendent said he is eager to start off the new school year, which opens a little bit later than usual.
“When we set the school year calendar many months ago, I wanted to provide a few days’ leeway to make sure everything got done, so we set a Sept. 6 start date,” Garvey said. “It turns out we probably wouldn’t have had to. We are 90-percent moved in right now. The new teachers come in Monday, and we’ll have the full staff here Tuesday.”
State Superintendent of Schools Tony Evers will be present to open the first day of school Sept. 6. He is scheduled to give brief remarks at 8 a.m. and then to tour the building, where he’ll get to interact with students and staff.
The grand opening, set for 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11, (after the Packers game has wrapped up) will feature several area officials, including state Sen. Scott Fitzgerald and Mike Thompson, deputy state superintendent of schools, among others.
The community is welcome to join in the program and tour the new school.