A year has passed since ground was officially broken on the largest of the projects in the North Branch Area School District’s voter-approved referendum. And while some of the most outwardly noticeable projects have been either finished or are near completion, there is still much work to be done during year two of the three-year reconstruction.

During a tour of the three school buildings, North Branch building and grounds supervisor Art Tobin and director of communications Patrick Tepoorten highlighted the individual projects that have been completed, along with the ones that are set to begin as early as June 3 – the day after the class of 2019 graduates.

Sunrise elementary

The biggest and most anticipated project by Tobin was the installation of a new boiler. These boilers, while having a significantly smaller footprint than their predecessors, are considerably more efficient, which will equate to lower yearly heating and cooling bills, according to Tobin.

Besides the HVAC system, Sunrise has had a second hallway created that leads to the cafeteria. Tepoorten explained that before, everyone had to walk past the main entrance, which created considerable congestion in the hallways. Now, traffic can be split up between the two entrances to the cafeteria.

The school has also purchased tables and chairs that are more flexible to move around on a regular basis, giving classrooms the capability of having fresh looks, even on a weekly basis. 

According to elementary teacher Janelle Korkowski, the students enjoy moving the tables and chairs around to fit their needs better. Plus, they enjoy the freedom to do work in unusual locations, such as in corners. But she does admit that one of their favorite places is still right in front of her main desk.

The school has also seen technology improvements in the form of digital monitors, along with an improved sound system.

While a majority of the work has been completed, the school will sport a new look next year as the kindergarten classes get moved to the Education Center, which will undergo an expansion to hold the additional classrooms.

Besides that, sidewalks will be redone, especially along the new driveway that was built to improve automobile traffic flow for parents dropping off and picking up students.

High School

The most talked-about improvement, in the form of an improved athletic stadium, is nearly 100% finished. 

The additional gym space is also well on its way to being ready for use by everyone, including the general public. That was one aspect of the construction that was very important, according to Tepoorten. The school designed these improvements in consideration that they will be usable for the community as a whole. 

To that extent, separate entrances were created so the general public won’t have to check in as visitors when school is in session. That also includes keeping the bathrooms in the new concession stand open for the general public to use.

Not all of the work done at the high school, however, was geared for the benefit of athletics. The auditorium got a makeover, including a new stage floor, new lighting, sound and seating, and a new control panel to operate them with.

The high school sports a new culinary class area, complete with state-of-the-art kitchen furnishings. The ROTC program has a new room, which had very specific requirements that needed to be met. There is also more common space outside of classrooms for students to utilize.

Coming up this summer, the high school will get its own new boiler and HVAC setup, bringing much-needed air conditioning to the school. Work will also begin on the “learning stairs,” a section Tepoorten predicts will be a popular space for students. The main entrance will also be moved by the end of the project, and a new roof will be installed.

Middle school

Like Sunrise, the middle school has already had its new boiler system installed, along with updated water heaters and an up-to-date method of controlling external lighting.

The most significant improvements came in the guidance area, where rooms have been equipped with such advances as variable-colored LED lights that can be changed based on the needs of the students.

Coming up for the middle school will be a gutting of the main office, a new roof, along with the removal of an old underground oil storage tank that is no longer needed.

While the total project won’t be completed until some time in 2021, the district is planning to hold an open house this fall for the general public. Project managers will be on hand to give tours of what has already been done, along with explaining what is yet to come. A shuttle bus will be available to bring people from one school to the other. 

The tentative date for this open house is set for Friday, Sept. 6, which Tepoorten says should be held prior to a home football game that night.

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