EAST HELENA — Just over a year after an official groundbreaking, the new East Helena High School is beginning to take shape.
“It’s just awfully exciting to watch this,” said East Helena Public Schools Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer. “What I want to see most of all is the kids’ reaction when they walk in here the first day.”
Public works construction is considered essential during the response to COVID-19, so work has continued the last few weeks. Crews have begun installing fixtures in classrooms and made progress on the library and gym. Much of the outside work has already been completed. On Monday, contractors were pouring concrete for sidewalks.
So far, leaders say the coronavirus hasn’t had much impact on the timeline for construction. Whitmoyer said Dick Anderson Construction reported some concerns about getting sufficient supply, but that delays so far have been minimal. He said crews are using hand sanitizer, often working in small teams and spreading around the building.
“These guys have had a good plan on how to deal with this, and they’ve done very well,” Whitmoyer said.
Ninth-grade students in East Helena were already going through an unusual situation – spending their freshman year taking classes in East Valley Middle School, while they wait for the new building to be finished.
Whitmoyer praised the work teachers have done to switch students to remote learning.
“It’s cool when you can trust your teaching staff to take over in a time of crisis and be innovative and be creative and find a way to still deliver a great education despite the challenges,” he said.
Leaders currently expect the new high school to be ready for students by the time the next school year starts, though Whitmoyer said there may be some small work left that can be done while classes are in the building.
District leaders don’t yet know when they’ll return to in-person classes, but Whitmoyer said they expect they will still have to do some social distancing even at that time. Opening the new building could help them accomplish that, since they would move only two grades into a school built for four.
“The more space we have to spread out in, the healthier everyone will probably stay,” Whitmoyer said.