Coming home to Cocalico School district opens doors to reveal additions

By on October 24, 2012

By: MICHELLE REIFF Review Staff, Staff Writer

Visitors to Cocalico High School Sunday had the opportunity to lay eyes on the state-of-the art gymnasium, new home to district basketball. (Photo by Stan Hall)

A new, state-of-the art gymnasium, refurbished tennis courts and a bounty of supplemental classrooms.

These are the renovations which alumni, parents and community members beheld as they gathered in two Cocalico School District buildings Sunday.

What started out as a damp Homecoming weekend ended with awe and remembrance. Recent graduates, along with parents and grandparents of students, some who once walked those same halls, laid eyes on the array of changes that have taken place during the past year at both the high school and Denver Elementary. The day finished with a concert by the high school band.

According to Superintendent Dr. Bruce Sensenig, the decision to build a new regulation high school gym was not a simple one. It was a choice that was made after careful consideration, weighing of options and a district-wide facility study.

"It was determined more fiscally responsible to build a new structure than to try to recreate and refurbish the 37-year-old space," he said.

And some 200 visitors seemed to agree.

"Comments were very positive and supportive of the new areas from everyone," said Sensenig.

Once home to the 1977 boys basketball state champions, the old gym was built for about 700 students, he said, as opposed to the current number of approximately 1,100. He added that it lacked storage and curriculum space, handicapped accessible bleachers and efficient lighting.

According to Audrey Stoner, athletic director, the old gym will now be used as a much-needed physical education teaching area and for team practices and junior high wrestling matches.

"Having two gyms allows for more flexibility in scheduling events and also practices in inclement weather for outdoor teams," she said. "The physical education classes can now use full gym space for their activities, where in the past one teacher needed to use the wrestling room."

"The kids are excited to be in the new area," Stoner said, which also includes a weight and cardio room. She added that the elevated area added to the tennis courts for visitors provides particularly enjoyable match viewing.

Also at the high school, guests were able to view the addition of the special service office area for the special education program. It features work space for a home school visitor, two school psychologists, a medical access administrative assistant and the special education consultant, all roles added over the years due to laws and requirements within federal IDEA and local student needs.

Sunday’s visitors also stepped inside Denver Elementary, where classrooms were added to accommodate former Schoeneck Elementary students, whose school closed over a year ago. The addition also increases special education space at the middle school.

"Although we moved some classes last year to make room for middle school classes in the hallway that we shared, the rest of the building moves occurred this summer," said Principal Angela Marley, happy to have the project completed.

Denver students agree, she said, now all in one building.

"The students enjoy being the first class in new rooms," she said. "It also places grade level teachers closer together for collaboration."

Marley felt the open house gave alumni who attended back when the building was a junior/senior high school an opportunity to see what the long-standing 1950s community fixture has become.

"It was a great way to showcase how the building has changed and to honor all those who have gained an education here," she said "They were surprised how well the building has been maintained even though it has morphed into an elementary school."

Marley said the alumni enjoyed reminiscing with other community members about where classrooms used to be, and current students who acted as tour guides lent an ear to hear stories about their time in the building.

Seemingly a win-win situation for all involved, the aspect of the renovations most pleasing to area residents is that the $7.5 million combined project will not result in additional tax millage. According to Sensenig, the interest rates were low and the projects were paid for by adding no debt to the district general budget, but by refinancing an older bond at a lower rate; restructuring existing debt; and selling the Schoeneck building which would have needed much repair.

"The school board demonstrated great fiscal wisdom and responsibility in moving on these projects at the right time," said Sensenig, who also praised the project team of David Davies, Sherri Stull and Kurt Eckenroad and the athletic department on a job well done.

"The tours went well, the concert was great, the weather was beautiful — it was a wonderful event for the Cocalico community," he said.

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