District kicks off next phase of high school renovations

DOWAGIAC — Some new sights awaited Dowagiac Union High School students as they got back into the groove of things Monday, after their return from their mid-winter’s break.

Late last month, crews responsible for the ongoing $16-million building renovation project wrapped up work on the third phase of construction. The work included the overhaul of five classrooms on the east end of the structure, as well as the installation of new lockers, wall clocks and hallway lighting in the wing, which will be used primarily for English instruction.

The largest feature of the recently completed phase was the addition of a second learning commons area, a space where students may gather for group instruction or independent study. The new space is located directly next to the first common area, which was installed as part of the second phase of construction in October, and are joined by an opening that makes the two labs resemble a large hallway.

Superintendent Paul Hartsig was present at the high school Monday morning, where he observed the new improvements made over the last several weeks.

“I love how you can look straight through the other end of the hallway from here,” Hartsig said, pointing toward the opposite side of the learning commons area. “It really opens up the building.”

The second learning lab will mirror the layout of the first, complete with small tables, couches and a series of monitors that students may connect their laptops to for presentations. Some of the fixtures have already been installed, though the remaining furniture is expected to arrive next week.

At the same time work finished on the third phase of renovations, crews kicked off the next stage of work, which includes an overhaul of the school’s media center. The space has been completely gutted for the work, which will include the installation of a new circulation desk in the center of the room, along with a series of small workrooms on the north end of the space and a space for instruction on the opposite side.

In addition, crews are busy working on transforming nearby Room 100 — previously one of the school’s “smart rooms” — into a workspace for teachers. The school is also updating the restrooms located nearby the school library.

Work on the fourth phase is expected to wrap up in March.

In April, crews will begin renovations to the school kitchen. In anticipation of the work, Hartsig said school administrators are looking into possible solutions to ensure that students continue to receive meals.

Over the summer, the district will complete a large bulk of the remaining renovations at the high school, which will include improvements to the cafeteria and front office areas.

While crews have whittled away at the tasks for the interior of Union High, work has continued on the new competition gym, which is being built on the west end of the structure. Contractors have finished the enclosure of the new gymnasium, and are currently working on building the lobby of the structure.

The new competition gym — which, like the ongoing renovations to the high school and football field, and planned improvements to the four elementary buildings, is funded through the $37 million pair of bonds passed by district voters in 2015 — will be a great improvement on the current gymnasium inside the high school, Hartsig said. The new building will offer several hundred more seats for spectators, and will have a lobby area with a concession stand, ticket booth and seating for fans to use to enjoy a meal before or during sporting events.

“It will be nice to have the larger space in case we ever have to move graduation inside in the future,” Hartsig said.

The competition gym will be used by Chieftain teams for games, practices and tournaments. Located next to the gym will be new locker rooms, a weight room, a training room and restrooms.

Standing inside the gymnasium Monday, Hartsig watched as crews worked on the ceiling of the new structure, using massive lifts to span the many feet between the floor and top of the building.

“It feels good,” Hartsig said about seeing the progress made since the district broke ground on construction last spring. “There has been so much planning, phasing and budget work that has gone into this gym. It is nice to see the concrete evidence of everything we have poured into this project.”

The new gym should be finished by June, and ready for use by the Chieftain volleyball team for the fall sports season.

Later this month, the Dowagiac Union Schools Board of Education is expected to vote on contractors for the planned renovations at Kincheloe and Sister Lakes elementary schools, Hartsig said. Leaders are also making progress on plans for Justus Gage and Patrick Hamilton.


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