Principal Anne Swartz and faculty and staff of Wilde Lake Middle School buckled down for a mid-year school building swap before winter break to unpack and prepare their new offices and classrooms for the students' return on Jan. 2.
Students had a holiday Dec. 22 and 23 while teachers made the transition to the new school, located behind the original building. .
The original building opened in 1969, with renovations in 1975 and 1996. In what many considered a much-needed upgrade, principal Anne Swartz said construction on the new middle school began in June 2015 and was completed in November, costing $26 million.
Available space has increased nearly 30,000 square feet, she said, making room for 752 students compared to the previous school's 506 students.
"First, there was the packing," Swartz said during a guided tour on Dec. 22. "Some [teachers] started in the summer with things they knew they weren't going to be using at the beginning of the year. The movers started in the first week of December."
About 30 yards sat between the old middle school's cafeteria entrance and the new middle school's main entrance, where movers trucked boxes of new equipment and furniture, including computers and student desks, to their various destinations. Glass windows stretched from ground to ceiling inside the main lobby, eliminating the need for electricity on a sunny day.
Swartz said one of the new school's crowning achievements was becoming Maryland's first net zero energy school, generating as much energy as it uses. The building is powered by solar panels on the ground and roof as well as a geothermal system to balance temperature and sensors to control indoor lighting.
An energy kiosk is displayed on a touchscreen halfway down the main hall, where students can see the new building's energy production and consumption, along with weather and other features.
The building's design allows natural lighting throughout the school, Swartz said, while motion sensors adjust lighting in the classrooms based on the weather.
Nearby, small blue utility carts were wheeled into the library, as library media specialist Sarah Russo pointed movers in the right direction. The three-year faculty member said the new space is "refreshing" and will bring better resources to students.
"Everything was so outdated" at the old school, Russo said. "When something failed in our television studio, I had to dig up a camera from my basement because they didn't sell the same camera anymore. Everything was so antiquated. There was stuff in our existing media center from the 1960s and 1970s."
Before the move, Russo said she spent plenty of time in the previous building's attic, sorting through old technology and finding old film projectors and floppy disks. Now, Russo said, interactive white boards and Mac computers will bring classroom instruction into the 21st century.
Although the transition was "a little hectic," Russo said she's happy the library will remain at the heart of the school just like in the old building.
Move-in day was a "whirlwind" of excitement for physical education teachers Steve Tiffany, Mia Chiarella and Jason West, who were all giddy about their gymnasium's new amenities. The Wilde Lake Middle Tiger Sharks logo marks the center of the gym with waves of blue wrapping the walls.
Tiffany, a Wilde Lake Middle teacher of eight years, said the new space includes a divider at the gym's center and a fitness lab, as well as wireless speakers and sound systems.
"Our storage space for all of our equipment is triple the size, so we're able to house all of the equipment and things we could use for our kids for instructional pieces and purposes," Tiffany said. "We've been storing some of the bigger pieces of equipment, like ping pong tables, in our shower and locker rooms [in the old building]. The availability of the space and being able to actually have our instructional pieces when we need them is awesome."
Looking at the pedometer on his wrist, Tiffany said he and his colleagues had a busy day ahead of them, having already walked 12,000 steps by mid-day on Dec. 22. However, Chiarella and West agreed that the quick transition would result in a tremendous payoff.
"Everybody is getting acclimated to the building, but the upside to all of this is that we have more space," said Chiarella said, who has also taught eight years. "The new equipment and facility totally outweighs everything. We have a great building, [we'll] work with it and it will be fine. The kids are so excited to be here."
"It's going to be awesome," West added.
Band director Dave Messick was just as ecstatic about his new band room, which included windows for the first time in his 17-year teaching career. During his 14 years at Wilde Lake Middle, Messick said his old classroom's space was also limited, including its 10-foot ceilings.
The new band room will be more organized, he said, with a wall of instrument cubbies, two practice rooms, a main office for the three music teachers and a neat music filing system.
"This eliminates the need for about 15 file cabinets," Messick said, standing by the two walls of music folders and files inside the teachers' office. "It has been very busy, but I feel like I've died and gone to heaven. This is awesome. I'm very, very fortunate. I've been teaching for 17 years and never have I had a room like this."
While the director unpacked and assembled a new vibraphone, others helped unload dozens of new music stands. Messick said the transition was "fast and furious," but worth it.
"We're just very happy. I'm very happy," Messick said. "This was definitely an investment for our community."
Smiles from members of her faculty and staff made the move worthwhile, Swartz said at the end of the tour. Walking past the lockers and student-ready classrooms, the principal said she was ready for a fresh start.
"I'm very excited," Swartz said.