Walking through the halls of the school, it is easy to imagine the 1960s school it was when it was built.
“I think that our classrooms are still twentieth century classrooms, you know?” Principal Scott Lessard said. “We have projectors on carts — some classrooms have promethean boards, others don’t — some teachers are still using chalk.”
The windows rattle, the science classrooms aren’t all fully functional and many claim the library is stuck in the last century. With money from a bond voted on by Denver voters, however, schools across the district will be experiencing updates and renovations in the coming summer. George Washington High School will be receiving nearly $11 million in upgrades, according to Lessard.
“We already had one of the major ones.” Lessard said. “You’ll notice when it gets a little warmer out, because all the classrooms now have cooling.”
The next renovations will include reworking outdated science classrooms.
“[My countertops] currently stain papers and leech up substances unknown,” biology teacher Juliana Evans said.
The issues in science classrooms go beyond dirty countertops, however.
“Some of their drawers don’t open, you know they can’t even use their full classrooms right now,” biology teacher Taylor Schmidt said. Schmidt’s classroom underwent renovations in the 2014-15 school year. “I’m excited for them to have what I have, which is a fully functioning lab space. The biggest thing I have that other teachers don’t have is gas and air.”
Evans is hopeful that the updates will allow her to better use her space and teach her students.
“There will be more room for students to work and collaborate, doing science experiments,” Evans said. “The storage will be updated, so it will be more accessible to their equipments and it’ll have ease of transitions between class and lab.”
Evans, along with chemistry teacher Jyoti More, will see a host of improvements, including replacing all cabinets and countertops, installing Promethean boards, replacing the furniture and installing a student work space.
“My back office will become a student work room, with kind of collaboration tables and chairs,” Evans said.
The school’s greenhouse, attached to Schmidt and biology teacher Paquito Lopez’s room which has long been non-functional will also be taking a step toward repair.
“Right now the greenhouse doesn’t maintain a steady enough temperature in the winter to be able to sustain sensitive plants, so that’s why we haven’t been able to do anything with it yet,” Lopez said.
Lessard, who will retiring at the end of August be transitioning power to incoming principal Kristin Waters on June 1. For the remainder of the summer he will continue to work at the school to see the renovations through to completion, but is anticipating some down time.
“There’s a louver for the roof that should open up and close based on the temperature in the greenhouse,” Lessard said. “It doesn’t work right now. We don’t know if it’s the motor that’s bad, or if it’s the gearbox that’s bad, but I can pull all that stuff apart, diagnose the problem.”
Teachers appreciate the significance of this hands on action.
“I love the fact that Mr. Lessard is willing to do that kind of stuff and is capable,” Lopez said. “It’s awesome.”
They suggest this is just another example of the care he has shown the school.
“I think it just says a lot about his character and his love for George, that even though he’s leaving, he’s not really ever totally exiting.” Schmidt said. “He really wants to have a hand in the school and to show his support.”
Beyond the science department, other renovations will include replacing all the toilets, urinals, sinks and lighting in the bathrooms as well as reworking both locker rooms to add team spaces to the girls’ locker room and generally increase the spaces’ atmosphere. All the tiles, showers, sinks and bathrooms are being redone.
“There’ll be a lot less lockers, you’ll be able to see over all of them, it’ll actually look like a locker room instead of a dungeon,” Lessard said.
But some of the biggest renovations will include replacing all the windows in the school and doing a total revamp of the library. The windows, which haven’t been replaced since they were installed in 1960, frequently rattle in the wind and furthermore do a poor job at regulating the temperature within the school.
“My room is a horrible temperature most of the time,” Evans said. “It’s either way too hot or way too cold, so it’ll be great to have some even-keel temperature in the room.”
The new windows, which will be double-paned instead of the current single-paned windows should help with the temperature fluctuations. Additionally the blinds will slide up and down between the two panes.
“As far as that whole blinds thing, up and down, broken blinds in your classroom, that’ll be a thing of the past,” Lessard said.
The most dramatic change will be the redesigned library.
“Most people aren’t going to notice the windows are done unless they work there or they go to school there, most people aren’t going to notice the other stuff,” Lessard said. “Everybody will notice the library.”
The renovations in question, will totally rework the library space.
“We are taking it from 1960s to now, to a current, exciting library,” librarian Michelle Jensen said. “We’re kind of calling it a ‘learning commons’ in that it’ll probably have something for everyone.”
Beyond superficial changes with carpeting, painting and lighting, the library will be receiving totally new furniture, placed where it can best help students.
“We’re doing a lot of seating underneath the windows, and currently that’s a place where students go — that’s where all of our outlets and all of the internet hookups are,” Jensen said. “So students go over there now so they can plug in their devices; once we have all the new seating they’ll actually have a place to sit. And some of them, as I said, are individual places, but others you can pull up chairs or have kind of a comfy-type couch, so it’ll just be kind of a fun place to be.”
Desktop computers will be replaced with Chromebooks and laptops, study rooms will be added and expanded and the circulation desk will be shifted to better be involved in the daily going-ons of the library.
Overall the library’s renovations aim to make the space more available to students, staff and community members.
“We have not only our students who use it and teachers, but we have a lot of people from the community who come in; we have a lot of events in the evenings,” Jensen said. “And so, that right there, we’re still going to have that, plus some.”
But in the end, the library’s design comes back to the idea of a learning-commons.
“The learning-commons idea is that this is a library, it’s a place for information, but it’s also our academic home, it’s also our prep for college-level and college ideas and that sort of thing,” Jensen said. “So, again, it’s also the hub of the school, where everybody comes here, whether it’s the students or community members.”