FORTVILLE – Tacked to a wall in the Mt. Vernon Middle School office are plans for the future.
And down the hall, those plans are unfolding.
Over the summer, a new cafeteria was constructed at Mt. Vernon Middle School. Now, school leaders are putting the final touches on their new International Café and preparing to begin the next phase of renovations to the school first built in 1975.
The school corporation last year revealed plans to move eighth-graders — currently housed at the high school — back into the middle school to accommodate anticipated growth in the district. But in order to do so, significant renovations are required at the middle school, they say.
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The renovations were recommended after a study looked at how best to accommodate a burgeoning student population.
From 2012 to last school year, the district had grown about 12.5 percent to about 3,930 students. Early enrollment figures for this year show that number has jumped to nearly 4,120.
The eighth-grade class has grown from about 265 to 330, reports show.
To make space for those students at the middle school, The district will invest more than $10 million, and those renovations started with a new, larger cafeteria.
All summer, crews worked to relocate the cafeteria for the district’s sixth- and seventh-grade students. Additional service lines were added, new furniture purchased and a new theme unveiled. The cafeteria expanded into a formerly underutilized auxiliary gym.
Around the room, flags from dozens of countries hang, paying homage to the district’s international program, which welcomes students from around the world to the district. One day, district leaders hope to send their own teachers and students abroad.
A few more tables need to be built, some signs hung, but the cafeteria was open for business the first week of school, said principal Ben Williams.
And students already love it, he said.
Each day, they rush to be the first to sit at high-top tables. Lunch lines move faster, and the food is improved thanks to new appliances, Williams said.
Jaylon King, a seventh-grade student, said he loves the new cafeteria, especially the new high chairs and tables. The only problem, he said, is everyone wants to sit there.
As Jaylon stood admiring the flags hanging around the room, Williams told him one day — hopefully before he graduates high school — he might be able to travel to one of those countries. The thought made the boy smile before he darted out of the cafeteria for his next class.
Now that the new space is nearly complete, educators say they’re ready to transform the former cafeteria space into a large classroom for group work.
Other changes are coming, too. Fourteen more classrooms will be added and a new fieldhouse built, Williams said.
The larger renovation project comes in two phases. The first focuses on the fieldhouse and the building’s exterior.
Mattcon General Contractors of Indianapolis has been hired for the first round of work, which should start in the next two weeks.
Renovations aren’t expected to be complete until December 2018, district leaders say, and the project is being funded by a $10 million loan.
Superintendent Shane Robbins has said residents living in the district won’t see much of a difference in their property tax bills despite the loan. Last year, the district refinanced existing bonds to lower their interest rates — a move that saved the district about $8 million.
Williams said he’s excited to see work get started. The project gives the middle school more space but will also transform learning environments for students.
The new classrooms will be modernized and will give students the opportunity to collaborate on school work in large groups.
A large classroom space that will encompass the former cafeteria will be shaped like a fish bowl. Teachers will be able to write on glass walls surrounding their students, who will have more space to team up on projects.
“It’s going to look like a brand new building,” Williams said.