“Wow! A room!  A real room!”  Those were the words of Kiowa County High School English teacher Susan Staats as she stepped in to look over her newly finished classroom Thursday morning while USD 422 Supt Darin Headrick was giving The Signal a walking tour of the $50 million facility.

   “Wow! A room!  A real room!”  Those were the words of Kiowa County High School English teacher Susan Staats as she stepped in to look over her newly finished classroom Thursday morning while USD 422 Supt Darin Headrick was giving The Signal a walking tour of the $50 million facility.  The enthusiasm in her voice was understandable, having taught classes in a trailer the last three years as part of the district’s “temporary” campus following the May 4, 2007 tornado.

   Like all the various spaces in the facility set to open its doors to students August 19, however, Staats’ is more than just a room.  It’s a state-of-the-art classroom featuring an abundance of sunlight from south-facing windows as well as a north-facing skylight along the roofline of the high school wing.  On the east wall is what appears to be a typical white board amenable to the noxious-smelling markers many still use.

   Though it is white, this board uses no markers, much less chalk.  A teacher such as Staats will “write” on the board, but will do so using an electronic pen that interacts with a computer-powered projector descending from the middle of the ceiling.  The writing that appears on the board will actually be a digital image, somewhat like the electronic signature that shows up on the checkout screen at Wal-Mart.

   As Headrick pointed out, the teacher can also place notes on the board remotely, by “writing” on a wireless tablet from anywhere in the room.  It’s then from that tablet that the notations appear on the screen.  Better yet, if any student is absent that day from a particular class, the notes are all saved electronically; ready to be emailed to the student’s home at the end of the day.

   The two ITV rooms adjacent to one another—one for transmitting lessons out to as many as three of the 12 area school in the ITV network at any one time, the other for receiving lessons from one of the other schools—are equipped with easily visible flat screens.  Headrick said mostly foreign language classes will be sent out from Kiowa County while classes in such topics as English Comp, College Algebra, Sociology, and Psychology can be received, some from area community colleges.

Bricks and mortar…

   The tangible elements of the new facility are likewise noteworthy, including a glimpse of what goes into making a building of such size and utility deserving of a LEED Platinum certification.  One of the most striking details to first make an impression upon a visitor to the interior of the school is the abundance of light, most of which is supplied by the sun itself.

   Strategic placement of windows and skylights allows sunlight to illuminate most areas with little if any supplementation of electrical lighting when the sun is up and shining.  In the case of overcast days or after-hours usage there’s no need to flip a switch.  A light-meter monitoring system determines exactly how much artificial lighting is needed for optimum conditions.  During the Signal’s visit Thursday morning, for instance, the auxiliary gym—westernmost one—was entirely lit by sunlight at 10 .m. while interior hallways used the aid of overhead lighting as visitors walked from one end to the other, all regulated by motion sensors.

   Using recycled materials also counts for LEED points, as in the use of the recycled fir paneling used in the interior walls—fir shipped in from California warehouses.  The exterior wood is cypress that was salvaged from downed trees in the south as a result of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath.  Instead of rotting in the various rivers and bayous of Louisiana those trees were extracted to become part of the new school here.

   In addition to conserving energy and materials, the new facility will conserve the equally valuable resource of time, especially when it comes to sporting events.  The adjacent gymnasiums will mean sporting events such as volleyball and basketball can start later and end earlier.  As Headrick pointed out, having only one gym meant having to start a volleyball quad-meet (four schools, each with a varsity and jr varsity team) around 3 in the afternoon, and typically not ending until 10 p.m.  With two gyms—auxiliary seating 600, the primary seating 1,200—the same quad-meet could start at 5 and be finished by 8 p.m.  “It means parents have more time to get here and won’t have to be out as late,” Headrick said.  “Of course, it’s not so long for the kids either.”

    While Headrick said it’s not yet been decided how to schedule basketball games, one possibility would be to emulate some larger schools by running games simultaneously.  An example might be starting the JV boys’ game at 6:15 p.m. in the auxiliary gym and the varsity girls at 6:30 in the primary gym.  The second round of games would then involve the JV girls’ in the auxiliary gym and the varsity boys in the primary gym.

   “There’s a lot of different ways we could configure that,” said Headrick, “but the thing is that this gives you great flexibility.”

It’s about the kids…

   Facing the South Main Street traffic in Greensburg is a large metal sign that reads “Kiowa County Schools” with stalks of wheat on the backside.  At the base is a small plaque that reads, “Donated to the children of Greensburg, Kansas.”  The signage is a gift of Zahner metal fabrication of Kansas City.  It’s not, however, only to the children of Greensburg, but to those of Kiowa County itself.

    The commemoration is appropriate, for, as Headrick himself will tell you, this new school is not about those who planned, designed and built it, nor even for those such as he who took decisive roles of leadership in bringing this model facility to fruition.

   “It’s about the kids,” he said simply, looking out onto the kindergarten playground area.  “It’s not about you or me or any of us, but about the kids now and their kids that will be able to advance through this school and its staff.  It’s always about them.”

(Don’t forget the grand opening for the new Kiowa County School is Monday, August 16, 3 p.m.)