The Commercial Appeal (October 10, 2018)
On a Wednesday afternoon, students at Bartlett High School practiced football to a backdrop of excavators moving huge piles of dirt on a space that used to be their auditorium.
Bartlett High School is a school under construction, with a $60 million renovation scheduled for completion in 2020. That hasn’t stopped classes and extracurricular activities from taking place on campus, with construction workers and school officials coordinating to make sure construction and education both continue.
“It’s kind of like a home renovation,” said Steffanie Grisham, who teaches world history and geography. “Of course, there’s a few things out of place here and there, but none of that compares to the genuine excitement of a new place for us. … Everybody wants to see and be a part of the finished product.”
The school’s 1917 auditorium has been demolished, replaced for the moment with a field of dirt. Foundations should start being built by the end of the month for a new auditorium.
The building that formerly housed Shelby County’s special education offices — and an elementary school cafeteria before that — is now being separated into eight classrooms.
By April, a modern vocational technology building will be up, allowing the old one to be torn down.
“It’ll get us into the 21st century when this was a 1970s building that was here,” said Superintendent David Stephens.
Having classes for about 2,000 students as well as construction can be a balancing act. Construction workers have at times had to build exit routes for students. Plans call for large amounts of work over the school holidays. The campus is being completed piecemeal, moving students around as needed. They’ve also come up with creative solutions, such as working with the Bartlett Performing Arts Center for their play until the new auditorium is built.
“We’ve had volleyball, football on the same night — and construction,” Stephens said.
When completed, the renovated school will include a varsity gymnasium with spectator seating for 2,500, a new cafeteria that overlooks the football turf, an auditorium with audience seating for 1,000, a new entry lobby, an increase of 17 classrooms or vocational spaces, new STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classrooms, a new drama classroom and more.
Before renovations began, the campus had 10 separate buildings. Once complete, all buildings will connect around a secure outdoor courtyard that includes outdoor classrooms, walking paths and an amphitheater space.
Jim Steinbrecher, an athletic director who also teaches film, video and speech, says he’s eager for his own children to attend the renovated high school.
“As an athletic director, I’m excited about our turf football field and eight-lane track and the new gymnasium,” Steinbrecher said. “As a fine arts teacher, I’m over the moon about the auditorium that we will soon be experiencing. As a father of four children who will come through Bartlett High School, I’m very excited about the new library space, the new STEM classrooms.”
Steinbrecher said that even though construction makes noises and creates “hiccups,” students and teachers “grin and bear it” as they go on with learning as usual.
The band room has already undergone its renovation, now a spacious area with bright lights, decked out in school colors.
It gives an idea of what the finishings will look like in the rest of the school, Stephens said.
“It’s definitely going to have a wow factor,” Stephens said. “From all the renderings and drawings we’ve seen, it’s not a cookie cutter high school that’s been built in this area for the past 25-30 years.”
The newly renovated Bartlett High School will have room for 2,250 students grades 10-12, but Stephens said it will also leave room for more growth 20-30 years down the road, with the ability to add extra stories onto some buildings.
Lyndsey Waldorf, a 2004 graduate from Bartlett High, visited the campus while back in town for her anniversary and was surprised to see the construction.
It’s another reason to come back for her high school reunion, she said. She’s excited for the secure entrance, an emphasis on technology and an “almost collegiate” cafeteria.
“I’m a little upset I’m not in high school right now,” she said with a laugh.