‘Our students deserve this:’ West Prairie celebrates new junior-senior high
West Prairie School District 103 stripped its former middle school to the bones and built a new junior-senior high school around it.
On Saturday, July 8, the district held a grand reopening for the building in Colchester.
“It’s about as brand new of a building as you can get that’s not brand new,” said Principal Jimmy Heuer. “Our students deserve this.”
The building dates back to 1968. A national design firm found the building was in poor shape in 2017, but those same experts might not recognize it today.
On the outside, there’s a new façade, landscaping, and a new parking lot.
The inside has a brand new look too.
“I’ve had people that went to school here, and they stop and hesitate and they’re trying to get their bearings because it just doesn’t look at all like it did when they went to school here,” said Heuer.
An addition to the front of the building includes a secure vestibule, new offices, and new classrooms.
Classrooms throughout the old building were renovated and have new furniture.
The district also put in new lockers, new bathrooms, new bleachers in the gymnasium, and new locker rooms. It improved the acoustics in the gym, and the building’s new vinyl flooring won’t need to be waxed.
“It’s about the whole community and the feeling our kids will have by knowing they’re appreciated, that this is important, and that we value education,” said Superintendent Guy Gradert.
He also said the building smells good, and Heuer concurred.
“It’s like climbing in a new car,” Heuer said.
Another feature is the cafeteria. The building did not have one when it was a middle school, which meant students who didn’t bring food from home had to walk or be bused to the South Elementary School for meals.
Gradert said in addition to all the forward-facing improvements, the district also upgraded the building’s guts, including installation of an air conditioning system.
“A lot of schools struggle with inefficient HVAC systems in old buildings,” Gradert said.
“Having a controlled environment with air conditioning will definitely help our kids. There have been several days in my three years here as superintendent where we’ve had to change schedules and let out early due to the heat.”
The price tag
Gradert said the project will end up costing about $10.2 million.
The money comes from a variety of sources, including the countywide sales tax for schools, the district’s Life-Safety bonds, the district’s reserves, and federal Department of Education’s ESSER funds.
ESSER -- the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund -- was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and provides emergency financial assistance to public schools across the country.
A bit of background
The district held a series of public forums starting in the Fall of 2017 to create a vision for the coming years. The district called the community engagement project “Impact 103.”
Major challenges confronting the district included the age of its buildings – on average, they were 54 years old at the time – and its shrinking enrollment.
The Impact 103 committee met for around eight months. It held five community engagement sessions before offering its recommendations in the Spring of 2018.
The group said the district should keep open both of its elementary schools, but that either the middle school building in Colchester or the high school building in Sciota be closed. The remaining building would house junior and senior high school students.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the renovation project was held in December, 2021, and the newly renovated school will open its doors to students next month.
The district will continue to use the old high school building in Sciota for at least a few years. Gradert said the gymnasium, the football field, and the track will get use in addition to a few of the offices in the building.
He said its long-term future has not been determined.
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