PALESTINE — The new Palestine High School is long overdue, Principal William Stewart says, further asserting that high school students deserve the nice building.
The gleaming new high school houses classrooms, an auditorium, computer labs, band and choir rooms, science labs, a cafeteria, lecture hall, library/media center, gymnasiums, an art room, a suite of administrative offices and other facilities.
Behind the horseshoe-shaped high school complex are a refurbished football stadium and track, a weight room building and a career and technology building currently being remodeled and updated.
The Palestine ISD board of trustees and administration will conduct the dedication and grand-opening ceremony followed by tours and refreshments.
Keynote speaker will be Todd Staples, Texas commissioner of agriculture and a graduate of Palestine High School. The choir and band will perform. Another speaker will be Jack Selden, an alum who will present a history of Palestine schools.
“Kids are excited, parents are excited, people in the community – everyone is excited,” Stewart said.
“It's an outstanding facility,” said Palestine ISD Superintendent Jason Marshall. “I think it's a credit to the folks in Palestine that they wanted to have this and they are willing to put their dollars up to have it.”
The high school construction and renovation work cost $35,654,046 million, the biggest project in a package of districtwide improvements funded with a $64 million bond issue that voters approved in 2009.
Trustees and the administration initiated the bond proposal and started the facility improvements during the superintendency of Dr. Thomas A. Wallis, who later resigned to become superintendent of Bryan ISD.
Marshall, who became superintendent a year ago, oversaw completion of the last phase of the project.
A lot of people have put a lot of work into the new facility, Marshall said, applauding the architect and construction company for getting it ready in time for start of school on Aug. 27.
“It's a dream come true,” said Kathleen Brown, head of the science department. This will be her 25th year teaching at Athens High School and she said she had almost given up hope on there being a new school. “Seeing it become a reality is very overwhelming,” Ms. Brown said.
School has been conducted amid the construction. Students strongly embraced the situation and it didn't stop them from learning or stop teachers from teaching, Stewart said.
“We still took care of business. I'm a firm believer education is the quality of the team that runs the school and the level of care for kids; that hasn't changed here,” Stewart said, yet acknowledged everybody is going to be relieved to have everything finished.
The improvements were carried out in phases, starting three years ago with the athletic complex, where $1,019,098 million was spent.
Natural turf in Wildcat Stadium was replaced with artificial turf, a new track and press box were built and new reserved seating installed. A weight room facility has been in use about two years. Two new gyms – a competition gym and an auxiliary gym – were built.
Much of the old high school was torn down and construction of new facilities began.
But part of the original structure was refurbished and opened last school year when a gymnasium area was turned into a modern classroom building.
“With the exception of the outside frame, it's a brand new building,” Stewart said.
“We have state of the art science labs – biology, chemistry, and physics. All the lab areas are new,” Stewart said. A theater was turned into an attractive lecture hall. The stage was removed, speakers installed and a drop-down screen with a projector for power points presentations and training was installed.
“Our auditorium is gorgeous; words can't describe it,” Stewart said. “The whole building is absolutely beautiful.”
Every classroom has a smart board and white boards. A new computer lab will double as a distance learning lab and there are two mobile distance learning labs where students can take distance college courses.
Television monitors throughout the school will make possible the posting of announcements and the broadcast journalism classes can create student-led news casts. Broadcast journalism students also will be able to tape a band concert, basketball game, volleyball game and broadcast it in the cafeteria area, Stewart said.
“Even while something is going on in the theater or gymnasium, if someone comes out to the concession stand, they can still see what's going on,” he said. “That's good for people coming here, but it's (also) good for our broadcast journalism program.”
The career and technology building now being refurbished will open in October. It will have a wood shop, metal shop, cosmetology, culinary arts, health science, broadcast journalism, criminal justice, agricultural science and a teacher prep program.
Several courses and clusters have been added to enable more students to graduate with certifications and college credit, Stewart said, and the high school plans to partner with local businesses to start internship programs.
“We are also starting up what we call Wildcat University. It's a program where the kids have an opportunity to take dual credit courses and be core complete (with basic courses for college) when they graduate from high school,” Stewart said. “It will even be possible for kids to get their associate degree.”
The school has teachers who are certified to teach at the college level in all core areas. Students will take some of the dual credit courses at the school, some on-line and some at Trinity Valley Community College's facility in Palestine Mall.
Stewart, who is starting his first year as principal after serving two years as assistant principal, said, “My belief as a principal and education leader is that you can never get comfortable where you are … I think when you get to the point you are comfortable with where you are at, you are in trouble. We're going to keep pushing for kids to get all the opportunities they can possibly have.”