After dismissal on the first school day of 2014, Garner Magnet High School counselor Randall Langley and business teacher Kent Bloms wandered over to the new Ninth Grade Center. Their first stop was the gym; the boys jayvee basketball coaches were curious to see if they could practice in it.
The pair doubted they’d much use the undersized gym -- designed more for multi-purpose space than basketball. But the newly-renovated former-movie theater set to open Jan. 22 left them chuckling at the novelty of new equipment, facilities and space for a school used to none of those things.
“It’s nice, the new facilities; Garner’s needed it for a long time,” said Langley, who has been a counselor at the school for eight years and will work in the new building.
A few weeks before the semester starts, work remained for the school to move into the building. But Langley and Bloms still marveled at various amenities as they wandered.
They saw a spacious band room, science labs with new glassware washing equipment. They marveled at the size of a room for home-economics type classes, with plentiful counter space and a handful of stove-top ovens. Langley stood facing one end, arms out, to demonstrate where the wall of the room’s counterpart on the main campus would be -- he indicated the new room was about three times the size.
The new appliances -- down to a stainless steel refrigerator in a break room -- bemused the two. Langley remarked that in his old office he had the same computer for 8 years. It was unclear if he was exaggerating when he added that it predated his arrival by longer than that. Brackets at a few locations indicated where a few small flat screens would go, and in a spacious closet off the home-ec room sat a front-loading washer and dryer set.
The educators quipped that they were nicer than what they had at home.
After checking out Langley’s new office, the pair found assistant principal Mark Maultsby, who was getting a few things in order in his new office. A bulldozer rumbled by the window in the parking lot as they chatted.
“It’s way overdue,” Maultsby said of the upgrade and expansion.
On Jan. 14, the school will host an open house for some members of the community as well as some WCPSS officials.
The Ninth Grade Center will house about 700 freshmen for the majority of their days. Principal Drew Cook has said that, while not necessarily an ideal situation, isolating the freshmen will provide the bonus of limiting a variety of distractions during the day.
He also has noted a correlation between struggles in the first year of high school and future dropouts, magnifying the year’s importance. Two of the schools five counselors focus on freshmen.
The expansion is not expected to be the ultimate solution to Garner’s space woes. The school still relies heavily on detached temporary buildings for class space, and walking between many classrooms may require an umbrella in rainy weather, especially for freshmen taking advanced or certain specialty classes on the main campus.
If all goes according to Wake County Public School System’s plan, the school will move into what will become South Garner High School while the current campus is rebuilt. In 2017, the school will move back to Spring Road after a $67 million rebuild.
This year Garner Magnet High School became the poster-child for the school bond. WCPSS used its crowded and aging facilities as Exhibit A in its case for selling the $810 million school construction bond.
In the meantime, the new space across Spring Road will add 12 learning spaces (complete with some uncharacteristically high ceilings designed for a movie theater) and 22 rooms in the three temporary buildings.