NEW PALESTINE — Tacked to the cafeteria wall hangs a picture of the November 2010 students of the month.

Principal Jim Voelz points out his son, Samuel, one of the last students to attend class in the building that formerly housed Doe Creek Middle School.

It’s been seven years since students walked those halls. His son and so many of these students have long since graduated — but their smiling faces are frozen in time in pictures displayed throughout the building.

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Next year, middle-schoolers will file into the school once again when the corporation renovates and reopens the building to accommodate a growing student population, a roughly $2.5 million project.

Since 2012, the student population has grown more than 8 percent from about 3,200 to more than 3,500, according to figures from the Indiana Department of Education.

Contractors recently removed portable classrooms previously used by middle-school students, paving the way for the renovations to start.

The building closed in 2010 as the district looked for ways to cut costs, but a growing student body has led administrators to reopen it. Seventh- and eighth-grade students and staff will move to the building next year from the current Doe Creek Middle School, which will become an intermediate school for district fifth- and sixth-graders.

District officials are awaiting architectural plans before releasing specifics about how the money will be spent. Once the plans are in hand, renovations will be in full swing.

Southern Hancock is one of three local school districts renovating buildings that house middle-school students. Mt. Vernon Middle School and Greenfield Intermediate Schools are both under construction. Mt. Vernon is adding space to move eighth-graders back to the building as its student population booms, while Greenfield Intermediate is undergoing work it’s needed for years since being converted from a middle school to an intermediate school housing fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders.

Over the next eight months, crews will be hard at work preparing the old Doe Creek building for next school year.

Besides a thorough cleaning, new flooring will be installed throughout the building, and the walls will get a fresh layer of paint.

Voelz has spent the past few months gearing up for next year’s move. He’s visited the old building and met with teachers to include them in the process.

Over the past few years, assistant superintendent Bob Yoder has been charged with making sure the building didn’t fall into disrepair should the facility be needed again. He’s run heating and cooling systems and added a new roof.

Now, the building will get new equipment for the kitchen, an enlarged student dining area and updated media center, also known as the library, to reflect the 21st-century learning needs for the students who will have the latest learning technology.

The district also has to update the building’s electronic infrastructure to ensure it can handle student devices. In addition, they’ll install new lighting, refinish the gym floor and replace chalkboards with white boards.

While necessary for student learning, many of the upgrades won’t be noticeable to the public, said Superintendent Lisa Lantrip.

The goal, Lantrip said, is to make sure the building is updated, comfortable and ready for students to learn.

Voelz and his staff are eager to get back into the old building, he said. The old Doe Creek building is better suited for seventh — and eighth-graders as opposed to the newer building he’s in now, originally designed for fifth- and sixth-graders.

The science labs are larger in the old building, and there are sport facilities, including a place for wrestling and an indoor batting area for the softball and baseball teams, which the golf team uses, too.

Voelz is most excited about redoing the media center, a place that will be a central hub for students to gather, relax and learn.

Voelz said his enthusiasm echoes throughout the district.

“I haven’t had one teacher complain or say they’re not looking forward to the move,” Voelz said. “We’re excited — we’re going back home.”

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Kristy Deer is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3262 or kdeer@greenfieldreporter.com.