Crunch time

Among the many features of Newton-Conover City Schools' new middle school, system leaders say aesthetics and accessibility make the building better than the rest.

Construction of the new school, slated to open next fall, is about a month behind schedule, school officials estimated Tuesday. Allen Kirby — construction coordinator for Newton-Conover City Schools (NCCS), Hickory Public Schools and Catawba Valley Community College — said a wet winter could further delay progress as crews work to complete sidewalks, stairs and other features outside the school building.

School leaders have said they hope the building is completed by April 2012.

Athletic fields around the school are mostly completed. The inside of the building is also well on its way to completion.

Many of the walls along the halls are constructed with polished rock that glistens and shines. Bright lights illuminate the gymnasium that now, like much of the building, awaits a finished floor. Large windows line the walls of the library, cafeteria and lobby areas on each floor, providing views of the woods and fields surrounding the school.

"Ain't this beautiful? This is great," school board member Kim Cline said Tuesday as she and other board of education members toured the building for their first visual construction progress update in several months.

"I think the kids are going to be tickled with this school," Kirby told school board members.

Kirby pointed out features that make the school accessible — both to people with handicap needs and to technology for students.

A long ramp in the 429-seat auditorium will help people with handicaps reach the stage area, and another ramp will assist people traveling from the bus parking lot into the entrance on the south side of the school. The building also has an elevator to reach all three floors.

Kirby showed a classroom area that will include five-foot-high screens that can be used with a projector or computers. He said the school building is wired for televisions and set up for wireless Internet access.

"We did that because if technology changes, we want to be prepared for anything," he said.

The upper floors include spaces for hands-on learning — including a kiln area where students can make pottery.

"A lot of nice features," said Jeanne Jarrett, who joined the school board this month.

Kirby said wings of the building were constructed in a way that allows for future expansion of additional classrooms on the ends, if needed. School officials said the building's current student capacity is about 700.

School leaders said gym bleachers, auditorium seats and other equipment for the building's interior are in storage and await installation when the rooms are completed.

The building is still in line for a platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, Kirby said. Solar panels are installed on the roof, the bus parking lot was paved with concrete to conserve the amount of heat that reflects onto the school in warmer months, and officials said the new school will be the only building in NCCS with a sprinkler system.

The school, being built off County Home Road in Conover at a cost of $20.8 million, is scheduled to open to students in August 2012. Students and teachers at Thornton Elementary School will move into the current Newton-Conover Middle School on West 26th Street in Newton.