BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON - Central Lee School board president Mark Hulsebus may have said it best Friday morning when he said the district's completed $13 million upgrade took more than 13 years to get completed.
District officials, community members, dignitaries, and construction officials were on hand Friday morning to cut a couple Hawk gold ribbons ushering in a new generation of education, academic, and fine arts facilities to the Central Lee campus.
"It's been a long journey, and I think some important context to where we're at today is the history of where the district has been," Hulsebus said.
"Back in the mid to late 90s we were in a very tough financial position as a district and we've had the good fortune of having a couple good superintendents come in that are both strategic and tactical at the same time."
Hulsebus was talking about former Superintendent John Henrickson, now at Mt. Pleasant, and current superintendent Dr. Andy Crozier.
"There's always been the conversation - especially with the gym and fine arts - we needed better spaces and, as security became an issue over the past 20 years, that became part of the conversation," Crozier said.
"It wasn't just four years, it took leadership on behalf of the board and the community to get together and say, 'Lets make a difference. Let's do something. Let's quit talking and take some action'."
The $12.9 million facility upgrade features improvements to security, learning, fine arts, and athletic space to the campus just southeast of Donnellson. It also afforded improvements to security all around the campus, and learning space at the elementary school just to the east.
A revamped cafeteria with cushioned booths all in Central Lee Hawk colors, a courtyard, an extended cafeteria lobby, complete with furniture and television monitors, have been added as an attraction for fans and students alike.
The district has pods with swinging desk tables where students can get comfortable while doing homework.
The new gymnasium can host simultaneous volleyball games with a third possible in the old gym.
Senior Maura Watkins said the improvements are good for the community and the students.
"It benefits us a lot because we have a bigger area and we can have two courts going for basketball and three courts going for volleyball," Watkins said.
"I've had grandparents coming here for years and they struggled getting up on the bleachers and sitting down. Now they have free space, too, and can get around easier."
She said the academic improvements have given students additional opportunities.
"I'm in consumer sciences and, with the new food areas opened up, you learn more. The commons area, since I'm a senior I take a lot of college classes, I can sit comfortably and work and not worry about being squished in the same room," Watkins said.
High School Principal Nicole Herdrich said this is the 'we're here' moment.
"I'm really glad we got to do this because it's culminating, 'We did it, we're here'. But the essays were the final thing. Originally we were just going to pick four to cut the ribbon and there were six essays. So I said let's just let them all cut the ribbon, but then I started reading them and was like everyone needs to hear this," Herdrich said.
"Just hearing that - that it means that much to them. We do have really good kids here and they deserve this and so does our staff."
She said even though the seniors are getting just over one year in the facility, it's a special one.
"This is a WOW factor for the kids. This senior group, I know they are only getting a year, but it's a very special year. This is about school pride, really ultimately," she said.
Hulsebus said the day does seem a bit anticlimactic.
"It's been a long project and we have some finer details we hope to get finished up shortly, but it is good to get to the day where it's kind of formal and public and the community gets to see what's going on."
"To be able to celebrate it is part of the process. You go through the planning and you go through the construction. You go through the opening for students, but a lot of these community members are part of why this is happening. So to be able to celebrate it with them and see the excitement on their faces is what makes it worth it for us," he said.
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