By Kevin Coughlin
Marietta Scorsune can’t wait to welcome students to her Spanish courses at Morristown High School this week. The smell of fresh maroon-and-white paint fills her classroom, inside a new wing that is part of a $13 million expansion.
“You come in here, and you feel special. I feel special,” said Scorsune, a 1998 graduate of MHS.
The 24,000-square-foot wing includes spacious classrooms with wall-mounted digital projectors; a 75-seat “learning center” with work pods where small groups can link their district-issued Chromebooks to flat screens; and an advanced design- and manufacturing center with hefty digital machines that can print 3-D objects, layer by layer, or sculpt them from blocks of foam, plastic or metal.
With state-of-the-art air filtration, and equipment once found only in vocational schools, “this is as fine an advanced manufacturing design space as you will find in New Jersey schools,” Morris School District Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast said during a tour on Friday.
The goal is to prepare students for design careers that are the future of American manufacturing, he said.
This is its first expansion since the early 1980s at Morristown High, which turns 100 in 2018. Officials have cited rising enrollment as the reason for the upgrades. By the school’s centennial, district-wide enrollment is anticipated to show a 500-pupil increase from 2011.
Some 5,250 youths will stream through school doors across the district on Tuesday, Pendergrast said.
Surpluses and the annual 2-percent state-mandated budget cap were expected to cover everything.
The first three phases of the expansion have come in under budget, totaling $9.8 million, the superintendent said. The remaining piece, consisting of about $2.5 million of renovations to the existing visual/graphics arts wing, is scheduled for next summer.
Designed by DiCara Rubino Architects, the project has special significance for Pendergrast. Ground was broken on June 1, 2015 — his first day as superintendent.
MHS Principal Mark Manning said he is impressed by how seamlessly the old and new hallways flow together, and by how swiftly and smoothly the construction unfolded.
“We were able to do this without interfering with one minute of instruction. For something this enormous, that is amazing. We didn’t have one hiccup,” Manning said.
Plans called for six new classrooms; in all, 13 “teaching spaces” have been created or renovated, the principal said.
Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin
NEW FOUNTAINS, TEMPORARY BLEACHERS
Students returning to Morristown High and the other nine district schools also will find new “water stations” — some 50 of them, featuring filtered water for refilling water bottles–along with filtered water fountains.
Pendergrast said the district spent about $200,000 testing and replacing water sources to eliminate traces of lead.
Other improvements include new seating in the high school gym and auxiliary gym.
Temporary bleachers have been rented for Memorial Field, where a structural defect has forced closure of the home stands.
It’s going to make for a cozy football season. Pendergrast said there were 2,300 seats last season; the temporary stands only will accommodate 1,200 fans for the Sept. 10, 2016, debut of new coach John Power. Fans will be encouraged to bring lawn chairs.
The district is exploring an overhaul of its athletic complex that would include new bleachers, Pendergrast said.
Lauren Shohen, a 2001 MHS grad who teaches technology systems and robotics classes, said the new facilities will enable her students to produce “more cutting-edge products,” including elaborate foam sets for school plays.
She also hopes the center entices more girls to give industrial design a try.
“The space before was pretty run-down,” Shohen said. “Girls feel like, ‘This isn’t taken care of, so why should I be here?’ They’re more affected by aesthetics.”
You can bet the new wing will be a hit with girls, boys, faculty and administrators, if Morristown experiences an Indian summer.
It’s one of the few sections of the high school with air conditioning.
Note: Citing information supplied by the district, an earlier version of this story reported that the final piece of the expansion would be postponed for two years because of bleacher problems at the football field. The district subsequently said the expansion will proceed as planned. Officials also indicated the new wing is the only area of the high school with air conditioning; however, it turns out that the studios of WJSV-FM and the broadcasting department are lucky enough to have a.c., too.