Exclamations such as "Wow!" and "This is awesome!" and "Was this really the sixth-grade hall?" were heard Monday in the halls of Quaker Valley Middle School as eighth-graders toured their newly renovated school.
Even squeals of delight could be heard -- not a typical greeting for middle school administrators and faculty at the start of a school day.
The students were attending an orientation to see the classrooms they will fill after the holiday break.
For the past 18 months, their school has been closed for a $23 million renovation.
During the project, sixth-graders attended classes in the district's Osborne Elementary School, while the seventh- and eighth-graders were moved to Anthony Wayne Elementary School in the nearby Ambridge Area School District. About 500 students attend Quaker Valley Middle School, superintendent Joseph Clapper said.
Mr. Clapper said the building, which was constructed in 1926 as Sewickley High School, has undergone a transformation.
"There are three main additions but also numerous other upgrades," he said. "There are historical vestiges that you don't want to eradicate, but we had to bring it up to date."
Mr. Clapper said technological additions also were made.
"This is a 21st century learning environment for our 21st century learners," he said during the tour.
The project is not finished. The new carpeting was still covered with paper and other traces of work were evident Monday. Classrooms where the work had been completed had "done" signs hanging on the doors, while others had notes with labels such as "cleaning."
Scott Smith, construction manager, said the classrooms would be completed by Jan. 7 -- the move-in date for students, teachers and staff.
Mr. Smith, who has been with the project for three years, said the old building had three separate, noticeably different sections. The renovation has tied all of the building sections together, creating a more harmonious and continuous look, he said.
"The students will notice the difference right away. It looks like one school now," he said.
As the students arrived, they brought their backpacks with books and other items to put them in their new lockers.
"That will help with the move," Mr. Clapper said.
The middle school students have a few extra days off for the holiday break to allow teachers to finish packing their rooms for the move over the break.
"That hasn't made them very popular at home if they have siblings in other schools," Mr. Clapper said.
Lydia Wirth and Emily Watters, both 13, wore big smiles as they unloaded their backpacks into adjacent lockers. Although Lydia is new to the district and had never attended the old middle school, she said she is looking forward to attending the upgraded school.
"It is really cool. It looks so bright," she said.
Emily grew up in the Quaker Valley School District and said, "I don't even recognize it. This is amazing."
Mr. Clapper asked students in a new science classroom what they thought.
They responded: "It's awesome," "It's amazing" and "Epic."
Teachers, who had seen the new building the week before, shared in the enthusiasm.
"I think I have the best room. It is wonderful," said Joe Prosdocimo, instructional technology teacher, standing outside of his new laboratory. "These upgrades will really allow us to focus on pre-engineering classes and move to the next level."
The renovations include three additions to the building: a wellness center, an integrated arts wing and an auditorium.
Sean Aiken, principal, eagerly awaits the return to the building.
"There will be so much more room here. There is just a plethora of opportunity and excitement," he said. "I think the students will actually be excited to come back to school after break."
Mr. Prosdocimo shared his enthusiasm.
"The students keep saying to me, 'Mr. Pro, you have the coolest new room," he said. "And they are right."
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: email@example.com. First Published December 20, 2012 10:30 AM