Community members were able to get a closer look at the newly expanded and renovated Barr Middle School during an open house Sunday.
In 2014, Grand Island voters approved a bond issue for seven projects: expanding Engleman Elementary, expanding and renovating Shoemaker Elementary, building a new Starr Elementary at a new location, building new Stolley Park and Jefferson Elementaries at their current locations, expanding and renovating Barr Middle School and renovating the 100-wing at Grand Island Senior High.
The Barr Middle School expansion and renovation is the fifth completed project from that bond issue.
According to the open house program, construction highlights of the Barr expansion and renovation project include 15 new classrooms, eight reconstructed classrooms, an expanded cafeteria, new entrances, a remodeled counseling office area, eight additional office spaces, 1,333 new academic and sports lockers (996 physical education lockers and 37 student lockers) and a new practice gym.
In his remarks during the public address portion of the open house, Interim Barr Principal Tim Hekrdle thanked taxpayers who said “yes” to the 2014 bond issue. He said that over the last decade, Grand Island has “boomed” and Barr’s student population has grown, too, as a result.
“Our great Grand Island community stepped up to recognize the need for more space and supported the 2014 bond issue,” Hekrdle said. “Grand Island has always understood that the education of our young people is a huge role and huge success in the community. That was why we were positioned as one of the fastest growing areas in the state. We are so appreciative of the opportunities that you as a community are bringing to our students each and every day.”
GIPS Superintendent Tawana Grover thanked parents and community members for being present for the tour to “see the progress that has occurred” at Barr.
Grover credited the leadership of the Grand Island Public Schools Board of Education and community members for helping the district move forward with progress.
“Progress is a matter of sacrifice and investment,” she said. “When we see a need or an opportunity, we are willing to make the sacrifices and the investment needed to bring forth necessary change in our community. To the community members who saw this opportunity to make sacrifices, as well as the investment for us to have this grand opening, we say to you, ‘Thank you.’ Through this advancement, it builds our mission of ‘Every Student. Every Day. A Success.’”
GIPS Board President Bonnie Hinkle said as she reflects on the Barr expansion and renovation project, the first word that comes to mind is “patience” as students and staff put up with a “less than adequate” building for a number of years.
“Five years ago, in 2013, is when we started talking about the bond issue,” Hinkle said. “We started our meeting on the school board and also with a lot of teachers and administrators to think about what we needed and to prioritize those needs. Barr almost didn’t make the cut, but we have some community members who said, ‘If you really think you need it, just do it now. Don’t come back a couple years later and ask us.’”
Hinkle added she is grateful for the community members’ comments, their willingness to add the Barr expansion and renovation to the bond issue and to pass the bond issue.
“It may have taken a while to get here, but it was definitely the right thing to do,” she said. “It is going to help our students even more in the future.”
Following the public address, Barr D.C. Delegates gave tours to those wishing to see the building. The Independent was given a tour by eighth-graders Hannah Julian, Emily Whiting and Kaden Renner.
Renner said that as eighth-graders, he, Julian and Whiting were at Barr “the whole time construction has been going on” and have had to deal with it.
“It was really annoying,” Julian said. “Sometimes the noise was very loud. Half the time, we couldn’t hear the teachers.”
Renner said the expanded cafeteria gives him and his fellow students “a lot more space” to eat.
“We used to have this (one half of the current cafeteria) and one table. There are windows now, too, so we can see out.”
During her comments, Hinkle thanked the students for their patience during the construction process.
“I know they had to get creative with where they ate, when they ate and where they practiced sports,” she said. “We appreciate all their patience. Through all of that, great learning continued.”
Julian, Whiting and Renner said one addition to the classrooms at Barr that they like is the additional windows in the classrooms. Renner said there are also “a lot more” exits in Barr now that the expansion and renovation are completed.
“Especially for emergencies and stuff like fire drills, it is easier access,” he said. “Some of the newer classrooms even have exits in their classrooms.”
Emily McPherson, a community-based instruction teacher at Barr, said she has a new entrance to her classroom that she and her students use throughout the day. When asked about her new classroom, she said she “loves everything about it.”
“We have a giant bathroom where we can do all of our hygiene,” McPherson said. “It is great having our own kitchen, too. We didn’t have a stove before, so it is great having that. We can do more elaborate plans, instead of trying to figure out what we can cook in the microwave.”
McPherson added her classroom has a washer and dryer, which is now in a central location and saves her from having to go to another classroom to do laundry.
Eighth-grade language arts teacher Geri Pagel said she likes that teachers now “have enough space for all our students” and she likes the additional windows at Barr. She also appreciates the fact each teacher is able to have their own classroom and students are able to have their own locker.
“It is nice the kids have their own lockers now and do not have to share that,” Pagel said. “In the classroom, we can actually spread out now. With the classroom I was in before, I had a lot of books, but no bookcases. So it was hard to keep all of my materials organized. I had to be really creative on totes and things like that.”
Amanda Rood, an eighth-grade math teacher at Barr, said she, too, likes that teachers have “nice, clear windows to see out of,” new blinds and new carpet in their classrooms.
“It is hard on your body when you are standing on concrete all day,” Rood said. “I am excited for carpet.”
Renner said the new classrooms house a variety of grades and subjects. One Barr classroom that was re-purposed, Julian, Whiting and Renner said, was an English language learners (ELL) classroom, which used to be a family and consumer sciences/health classroom. Dana Pavuk, a Barr ELL teacher, said she “loves” her new classroom.
“I have a lot more room,” Pavuk said. “We have carpet. I like to do flexible seating where students can sit on the floor, on pillows or beanbags, so this is much more comfortable. I have a lot more bulletin board space and wall space than I ever did.”