While Gaithersburg High School students are making their final preparations as the academic year draws closer, their school continued its own steps this week to get ready for them.
The high school’s new building showed signs of a long-term project undergoing its final stage: “Wet Paint” signs cautioned passers-by Monday, minor construction work produced whirs and beeps, and tables and other furniture stood ready for arrangement.
As she walked through the 422,000-square-foot building on Monday, Christine Handy-Collins, the high school’s principal, said everything will be ready before school starts Monday.
“We’ll be ready to rock ’n’ roll,” she said.
Gaithersburg High students will be among a group of county public school students passing through new doors this fall: Glenallan and Weller Road elementary schools in Silver Spring, Herbert Hoover Middle School in Potomac and Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville.
A number of elementary schools will open Monday with new additions, including Bradley Hills, Westbrook and Wyngate in Bethesda, and Georgian Forest and Viers Mill in Silver Spring.
Though Gaithersburg High still was in prep mode on Monday, it already showed signs of the activity it will hold starting next week. As varsity and junior varsity football players practiced on the new turf field and a group of band members practiced in an open commons area of the hallway, teachers trained in the new media center to learn about the high-tech Promethean whiteboards in their classrooms.
Senior Kelsey Semou said she was impressed with the size of the school, a factor she thinks makes it “stand out” in the county.
While she has seen the building when it still was under construction, she said actually entering the school brought out a “wow” from her.
“Just coming in, it’s a different feeling,” she said. “‘Cause you’re actually in the building, it’s your school.”
The school includes a new gym, a new cafeteria, a gutted and renovated auditorium and two courtyards, among a series of other new or improved features.
At the school’s entrance, a visitor immediately walks upon a large gold and blue “G” paired with the head of the school’s Trojan mascot decorating the floor.
“When you come into the building, you certainly know whose house it is,” Handy-Collins said.
The old building will be torn down but for the auditorium and a 9-year-old wing once called “J hall” that now has an added third floor, Handy-Collins said.
The school’s hallways all have college-based names — helpful in the large building — including College Park Drive, Towson Terrace, Salisbury Parkway, Frostburg Freeway and Johns Hopkins Highway.
Before students enter the school with classes on their mind, teachers and others were familiarizing themselves with the new layout and the elements that came with it.
For social studies teacher and football coach Kreg Kephart — and Gaithersburg High graduate of 1973 — the move into the new school marks a period of change and adaptation.
“It’s like going from a little one-room schoolhouse to a great big Taj Mahal that’s built next door or something,” Kephart said.
Kephart said he will trade the portable classroom he taught in for 15 years for a classroom he described as “spacious” with “beautiful” desks.
He said he thinks the stadium field will be “comparable to none.”
While teams are practicing on the field now, home games won’t start until the 2014-2015 school year, when construction on the area around the field will be complete.
“The inconveniences that we went through the last couple years I guess are worth it in the long run when you look to see what we have once we finally get in here,” Kephart said.
The $95.8 million school site still has a year left of its four-year construction process, Handy-Collins said.
Richard Bosnic — who began teaching at Gaithersburg in the late 1980s and described himself as “an old dog learning new tricks” — said the school environment when he started and the environment now is “night and day.”
For Bosnic, preparing for this upcoming school year has meant learning how to use the Promethean boards, which were only introduced into some classrooms in the old building and represent one of several technologies he sees changing how kids learn and how he teaches them.
As the school community moves into the new building and becomes more deeply involved with the new technology, Bosnic said he doesn’t know how it will pan out but that it sounds exciting.
“My guess is everything’s going to change dramatically,” he said.
Chris Taylor was found Monday where he will be teaching his media productions class with the help of a studio space strictly for filming, updated equipment and several editing suites to make “Blue & Gold TV” come to life.
“Our old studio, it was about the same size, but we also had all the computers in there so students were editing while other people were trying to film and it was very chaotic at times,” Taylor said.
Among the athletes walking the halls on Monday, Damian Harkun, 16, said he was struck by the amount of space in the school and that he liked the building’s design.
Though he had been at the school for football practice for several days, much of the campus still was new to him.
“I haven’t even seen the whole building yet,” he said. “I’ve only been to certain parts.”
Though the building marks a significant change for the school, Semou said she thinks the school community will remain much the same.
“We’re still going to have that Trojan pride we always had,” she said.