Columbus schools' new crown jewel

January 12, 2011 2:28:00 PM



One word: carpet. 


From the outside, the architecture of the new, $19.1-million Columbus Middle School is classic yet modern. You''re more impressed when you enter the rotunda, the hub at the school''s center, with its halls jutting off in each direction. 


But once you hit the carpet, you know this school is truly different from anything else in the Columbus School District. All the classrooms are carpeted -- which brings a homey feel to each room, and dares to treat its inhabitants like they''re in a place of comfort, rather than an institution. 


It''s a small detail. But it becomes quickly apparent that this is one detail in many that weren''t overlooked in the new school, which is literally a showcase of modern learning and one of the city''s brightest new jewels. 


If you think we''re overstating things, go look for yourself today or Thursday. Public tours of the school will be conducted from 4-8 p.m. each day. 


Tuesday, the district''s teachers were allowed a peek. The school''s teachers -- who will move from Lee Middle and Hunt Intermediate schools next Tuesday, before students are admitted next Wednesday -- displayed the giddiness of children picking out their rooms in a newly built home. Some teachers were getting a tutorial on the Promethium boards that are in each classroom, which are essentially touch-screen computer screens projected on the wall. Teachers can take attendance, show videos, and do everything, and more, they can do on a computer, only do it with the class. 


Some milled through the new library, which some had already nicknamed the "Barnes and Noble." Jaws dropped at the sight of the cafeteria, which looks like a mall food court. At the end of other hallways are the gym, with its shiny wood floor ready for play, and the auditorium, with its massive stage, high-tech camera and flat-screen TV. 


The school has a mirrored and wood-planked dance studio, a band hall and separate choral room, science labs, a broadcast room, and an art room complete with its own kiln for baking ceramics.  


Some of us remember going to schools without air conditioning, eating lunch in a cafeteria with a stage in the middle and basketball hoops on both ends. Not these lucky children. 


The furniture and cabinetry look like they came from Ikea. Students sit at modular desks that can be arranged in different ways, including being moved together into circles. Teachers'' desks and most other furniture is on wheels, allowing ease of movement and for teachers to arrange their classrooms as they see fit. 


Bathrooms are doorless, like you might find in an airport or a conference center.  


Security cameras monitor movement, and doors can be electronically locked and unlocked. The building has a school''s typical concrete-block walls, but architectural accents like recessed lighting over offices and creative treatment of ceilings break up a typical school''s monotony. 


Everything wasn''t complete Tuesday at the school, which has seen delays from its original Nov. 1 completion date. Workers were still painting parts of the exterior. More crews were inside, some of them on ladders poking through the ceiling, working on computer wiring and other last minute details. But things appeared 99 percent complete. 


Our hat goes off to Superintendent Del Phillips for establishing the vision for the new school, pushing through the bonds, acquiring the land, and making the whole thing come together. Pryor and Morrow Architects did a fabulous job with the school''s design. West Brothers Construction was charged with taking the building from the ground up, and while it faced delays with subcontractors, the end result appears beyond a success. 


Everything in the building is new, down to the crisp new flags flying outside on the shiny, brass-topped flagpole. 


That is, almost everything. The faculty and students are the same ones coming from the existing schools. They have the same challenges that they did before the school was built. 


This is a gleaming new plane that hasn''t flown yet. But we hope the surroundings inspire its occupants to take themselves, and the district, to new heights.