New Northern High School opens doors
Capacity issue resolved; old building to go
It’s 7:20 a.m. and sophomore Sarina Gaub and freshmen brothers Jacob and Nate McConnell are among the many droves of students streaming past the old Northern High School into the new $70 million replacement building.
Thursday morning was the first day Northern students attended classes in the new school. Calvert County Public Schools retired the old school, which was built in the 1970s, over the holiday break.
“I’m pretty excited. It’s bigger and better,” Nate McConnell
said of the replacement school.
“I’m excited for [students in other schools] to stop bullying us about not having windows. That’s a big one, and nerve racking ‘ cause I heard it’s really confusingly big,” sophomore Alayna Stewart said, sliding into the building minutes before the morning bell.
“Oh great! I’m already late because I had a 30-minute walk from my car,” senior Allison O’Brien said to her friends at 7:25 as the bell was ringing, marking the official start of classes after the winter break.
In July 2016, the Calvert Board of Education awarded a school replacement project contract to J.A. Scheibel Inc. of Huntingtown for $69,382,000 to address the issue of overcrowding and aging infrastructure at Northern.
The project broke ground in August 2016. The new 211,260-squarefoot building, adjacent to the old school, can accommodate 1,440 students, more than the former building, which was 178,531 square feet and had a capacity threshold of 1,223.
The new building is configured like an “H” or “I,” depending on perspective, with science labs in the center.
“The back area is where all your classrooms are from third floor, second floor and the first floor. You always come in on second floor. You don’t have to come to the first half of the building unless you are coming to the cafeteria. Most of the time you are in that back ‘I’ area,” Principal Steve Williams announced over the school’s intercom system shortly after the bell.
“Have a great day — just remember it’s like moving into a new house. There’s going to be some things we’ve got to figure out and get comfortable with, but we will get there,” Williams continued, encouraging the students not to get anxious if they don’t get to class on time. “We have some hurdles to overcome.”
Later, Williams could be found helping senior Dylan Rayfield find his locker in the new facility.
On hand to observe the fruits of CCPS’ labor was Superintendent of Schools Daniel Curry, who said an open house was held the night before for students and parents to get a preview of the school, with class schedules and school floor plan in hand, before opening day. Curry said the event was well attended.
“I think it was very helpful because I saw students and parents with the map and they’re going ‘first period I got to be down on the first floor and second period I got to be up on the second floor.’... It was good to be introduced to everything and come in here today without being absolutely blind. It’s a good start,” he said.
Northern High is the first new school he has opened in his five years at the helm of the school system. Curry also likened the experience to homeownership, saying it was exciting and stressful. He said some of the teachers have taught their entire careers in the old Northern High building and will have to make a big adjustment, but he thinks everyone is going to love the new building over the “odd design” of the former building.
“The amenities are beautiful. The cafeteria is twice as big as any cafeteria they’ve ever had — it’s a big day,” Curry said.
“Shuchita is the ramrod. She’s the one who made it come out of the ground,” Curry said, crediting Director of School Construction Shuchita Warner. “She got this on schedule and on time.”
Warner, who is in her 11th year with CCPS, rose from supervisor of school construction to director two years ago. She has overseen four new school building projects in Calvert to include Barstow Elementary, Calvert Middle and Calvert High.
Warner said the Northern High construction project has another 18 months to go, to include tearing down the old building, construction of an administration building, an addition to the Mary Harrison Cultural Arts Center and a new parking lot.
Curry and Warner said the earlier report of a 30-minute walk from the parking lot is a “bit of a stretch” and the walk is more like 10 minutes, acknowledging that seniors and juniors who park in the student parking lot (former Northern Middle School ballfields) do have to walk farther than normal, especially if they are walking and talking with their friends.
“It is a bit of a longer walk, but they do get to come into a beautiful building. So, hopefully, that makes up for it,” Warner said, noting a closer parking lot will be erected eventually on part of the footprint of the former school.
Once the final parking lot is paved, there will be a total of 360 new parking spaces provided, along with 154 existing spaces for a total of 514 by summer 2020.
“I tell the kids this is part of our wellness program. This is part of our anti-youth obesity program,” Curry joked, making light of the long, but temporary, walk between the main building, parking lot and the band room at the Harrison Center. “You’re going to get some steps in.”
Curry and Warner strolled through the building observing students and admiring the spacious classrooms as well as the well-lit and wide hallways.
In classroom No. 234, teacher Robert Gibbons fielded questions from students in his Honors Algebra 2 class about the new building. Warner and Curry popped in and pitched in with answers about layout and parking.
Down the hall, 10thgrade English teacher Erin Mathers had an endless list of positives about the new building: “Oh my [gosh], I love it. First thing starting with the windows. It helps the mood greatly when you can see outside. Great space — there’s so much.”
“Beyond the windows, it’s just comforting to have great air quality. We’re not bouncing all over the place, as far as temperature. Just aesthetically, it’s just beautiful. That’s refreshing,” Williams said.
“We’re hoping to improve the culture just by the building, but we know the building didn’t determine our culture because we have very high-performing students and our students are great kids. So, we’re hoping to improve upon what we already have,” he said.
Williams said with the larger facility, the school can kind of loosen its belt when it comes to capacity.
Curry stressed student enrollment is the same and school boundaries have not been changed, but that moving into the newer, larger building does give them “a whole lot more elbow room.” Currently, Northern has a student body of 1,460, just 20 students over the state rated capacity, but Curry stressed that does not mean the new school is overcrowded and that 1,440 is ideal.
In order to accommodate the extra square footage, the school hired two additional custodial staff members to maintain it.
Curry said both the school board and the county commissioners agreed to kick in additional dollars to build the school to expand capacity.
“The state always shares in the expense, but in order to build what we wanted to build, we had to kick in more than the normal share,” Curry said, expressing his appreciation to the former commissioner board.
“We can get rid of our trailers, too,” Warner said, referring to three trailers on the front of the school that were always staffed for classes.
The contractor will begin Phase 2 in mid-January, which includes some site work prior to start of demolition in early March. Construction fencing has been placed around the old building in preparation for demolition to separate the new school area.
Sophomore Alayna Stewart was excited about having windows in the new Northern High School replacement building on its opening day Jan. 3. The old building, which will be demolished, had no windows in the classrooms.
Teacher Robert Gibbons fields questions from students in his Honors Algebra 2 class at the new Northern High School replacement building.