The ‘new’ Forest Park Middle School is unveiledBy G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGIELD – Forest Park Middle School Principal Medina Ali said the reaction from the students in their newly redesigned and renovated school was simple: “they were in awe.”
Ali and School Superintendent Daniel Warwick led a group of elected officials and media through the school on Sept. 3.
Ronald Rickey, the project manager from Arcadis the company supervised the renovation, said the transformation took three years to complete and admitted it wasn’t always easy.
“Every time you turned around there was an unknown obstacle,” he said.
The original school building was constructed in 1898, Rickey said. Additions were then built in 1919 and 1936.
One of the surprises, Warwick said, was discovering part of the building didn’t have footings.
For Ali, the new school means a “new culture” for the students who had for the past three years been divided between three locations in the city. She said the building in its previous state was “extremely challenging.”
She believes the school will help improve attendance, as students will have a greater sense of pride attending classes here.
The improvements include a complete gutting of the structure with all new classrooms, a new gymnasium, a redesigned front entrance, a new cafeteria and a new media center, which will house the school’s library.
Ali pointed out a first for the school: a dedicated computer lab. All of the classrooms are equipped with “smart” white boards, Warwick said, who added the entire school has wireless Internet access.
The school has an elevator system for the first time making it completely handicapped accessible, Ali said.
The new entrance has a set of stairs and a ramp leading students to the main office, which is now in the basement level. The media center is where the gym once was.
Perhaps one of most dramatic changes is the auditorium, which has been completely renovated. Warwick pointed to the original floors, now refinished and said the space can hold all 702 students.
The renovations cost $43.4 million, Warwick said. Originally budgeted at $32 million, he explained that because the new Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy was under-budget he was able to supply the leftover money to the middle school. Forest Park and Putnam were the last two school projects that will receive 90 percent state funding, he added.