Michael Bishop, principal of the 283,000-square-foot, $92.6 million Patriot High School in Nokesville, said opening the school offered new challenges even for a veteran educator, such as the kitchen for Cafe Synergy, which hosts the school’s culinary arts course.
“I didn’t know a darn thing about culinary,” Bishop said. “I’d never run a restaurant, so I had to learn.”
The new classroom kitchen for future top chefs reflects today’s trends, with a huge cooking space that rivals a Ruby Tuesday, as Bishop puts it. Those evolutionary steps are evident across the curriculum: Shop has become engineering and robotics, and basic computer and typing classes are replaced with courses that emphasize more in-depth technical skills.
As educators plan to open Ronald Wilson Reagan Middle School in booming Haymarket, they’re also planning for the inevitable. In two years or less, the school might be filled to capacity.
Still, fresh environs are exciting.
“It’s nice to start over,” teacher Deb Wolfe said as she set up her new classroom at Reagan Middle recently.
But some Prince William students are still spending time in classroom trailers, or mobile classrooms. There are 203 in use in Prince William, reflecting the county’s growing pains.
Dave Cline, an associate superintendent who oversees financial and construction issues, said Prince William’s trailers could be eliminated for $175 million, money the school division doesn’t have.
The system spends $60 million to $80 million annually to keep pace with the addition of 2,500 students every year, money that is typically spent on building renovations in the older, more developed eastern end of the county and new schools in the western part, Cline said.
Although enrollment throughout the rest of the region is steady or growing, Prince George’s schools have faced the opposite problem. The system had a nearly 10 percent drop in enrollment from the 2010-11 academic year and last year. The county opened one new school, Greenbelt Middle School, on Monday. Despite recent enrollment challenges, school officials said enrollment is projected to grow in coming years. To accommodate that, the construction of four schools and major renovations are underway.
Even without a soaring enrollment, the cost of school construction and renovation projects is a constant obstacle, Prince George’s officials said.
“The primary challenge to school construction is rising costs and insufficient funding,” said Briant Coleman, spokesman for Prince George’s schools.
The best part of a new building is creating a new culture and the excitement and anxiety that comes with welcoming students for the first time.
As she strolled an empty hallway at Reagan Middle, Assistant Principal Amy Alexander looked forward to the possibilities. “I just can’t wait for the students to get here,” she said.