RACELAND Walking through the new middle school under construction in the Raceland-Worthington district Monday, board members looked at concrete block walls and unfinished sheetrock and saw a 10-year vision three months from completion.
“We've been talking about this for 10 years easily, so to see it so close to fruition is amazing,” said board chair Sandra Loperfido.
The outer facade of the 70,000-square-foot school is near completion; windows have been installed and an outer skin of bricks covers the structural walls, which are made of an insulated concrete product that provides superior energy efficiency, according to architect Edward Tucker.
The building includes 29 classrooms, a 9,000-square-foot gymnasium, a cafeteria and second-floor library.
The school, which is expected to be ready to occupy by early December, will replace Worthington Elementary, which was built in the late 1920s and is increasingly difficult to heat, cool and repair.
It will serve grades four through eight. Fourth through sixth grades currently are at Worthington and seventh and eighth are at the high school.
The new building is designed so grades four and five will be downstairs and six through eight will be upstairs, Superintendent Larry Coldiron said.
It was designed with enough space to give the district the option of adding third grade, a step that would depend in part on numbers at Campbell Elementary, the district's primary school.
The $16 million school is behind and adjacent to the high school and the John P. Stephens Cultural Arts Center. The location enables middle-schoolers to walk to the high school for certain classes such as band, choir and vocational education, which saved construction money because the district did not have to duplicate those classrooms in the new building.
The district was able to afford the school because it enacted a tax levying an additional five cents per hundred dollars of valuation to property taxes. Because of that, the state awarded matching funds. The district also got money from a state fund for urgent needs.
The board also toured a new district central office in the former Grace Methodist Church, which the district bought along with five acres of land. Refurbishment consisted mainly of painting, replacing stained-glass windows and wiring for technology needs, Coldiron said.
The $1.2 million project also was paid for because of the nickel tax and was affordable because bids on the middle school were lower than expected, he said.
Administrative offices currently are in the original high-school building, which also dates to the late 1920s and is deteriorating.
The fate of that building and the Worthington building remain undecided, Coldiron said, although the district plans to continue using
the gymnasium behind the old high school.
Other changes include a new track and bleachers at the football field, new tennis courts and an athletic field to replace similar features that were on the site of the new school. New fencing resembling wrought iron provides security and a new entrance and some new roadways provide vehicle transit around the schools.
The overall goal was to unite the high school, middle school and elementary, Coldiron said. “We tried to make it a campus project instead of just a building. We will never have the money for this kind of opportunity again, so we tried to make the most of it across the district,” he said.