Students eagerly await new gym |

Students eagerly await new gym

Community anticipates new school, new pride

Danie Harrelson

— Volleyball practice at Soroco High School is over until tomorrow morning, and a group of tired teen-age girls lingers in the gym.

Outside, the sounds of men at work on a new gym gives the girls reason to practice harder.

Voters approved a $9 million project last November to improve the high school and middle school on the Oak Creek campus and the elementary school in Yampa.

Meg Hayne and Jess Northrop can thank them for the chance to eventually play in a new facility. The 16-year-old juniors have spent many long hours perfecting their bumps, sets and spikes in their small high school gym.

“We’re so used to cramped conditions that having so much space to practice and play in will be so different,” Hayne said. “But we’re OK with that.”

While girls and boys basketball teams must vie for gym time in the winter, girls volleyball is the only sport that uses the gym in the fall.

The volleyball team eventually splits into varsity and junior varsity teams, with one squad sweating out its practice in the gym, while the other squad passes the time by waiting, doing homework and waiting some more.

“Sometimes it can be a real pain to share but we have to live with it,” Northrop said.

And live with it they have, with practices often lasting until 7:30 p.m.

Construction has pushed back the district’s start date, so the team will have more than three weeks of practice behind them before they hear the first school bell on Sept 10.

The girls aren’t complaining.

“We practice in the morning, but then we still get to go back to sleep instead of going to class before our afternoon practice,” 14-year-old freshman Nicole Martin said.

Soroco district teachers return to their classrooms Sept. 6.

John Strickland, owners representative for construction, anticipates students and teachers will have a place to park their cars by then.

Due to construction, athletes are not allowed to park on the campus and must “hoof it up” the hill to the gym.

Piles of dirt, heavy construction equipment, cement and unearthed lines have replaced what was once a quiet cluster of middle school, high school and administration buildings.

Visitors to the campus must wear hard hats because of the heavy construction. By the start of school, a tight perimeter will enclose the gym-in-progress and other construction areas will be secured. Strickland said he remains very optimistic that crews will complete work on the middle school earlier than the target Christmas date.

While crews finish remodeling the middle school’s interior, students in the sixth through eighth grades will attend classes in the high school.

Strickland would like to have them back in familiar surroundings by Thanksgiving.

“We are hoping that we can beat the schedule,” he said.

In Yampa, the elementary school is slated by Christmas break to include new restrooms and a new classroom wing, as well as a remodeled interior. Trailers that now house classrooms will no longer be needed with the additional space.

The current administration building and vocational/agricultural building at the Oak Creek campus will be replaced by a new facility behind the new gym.

The old buildings will later be torn down so people driving past the Oak Creek campus can see the new gym and landscaping.

Board members and administrators are pleased with the work of the architects and construction crew.

“They’re looking at this project as though this is their school and these are their kids,” Strickland said.

Science teacher Ed Hayne has seen high school students come and go for 25 years. He is looking forward to spending his final years in the classroom amid so much change.

“So many people have said that they can’t believe we passed the bond issue when so many other districts else can’t get it done,” Hayne said.

Hayne said his co-workers share his optimism about improvements to the Oak Creek campus.

Although student numbers in the Soroco school district have fallen slightly, public support has remained high for the project, Superintendent Steve Jones said.

“When we took this issue before the voters, we told them that this was something our students need now, regardless how many students we might gain or lose,” he said.

Problems with a crowded gym schedule and deteriorating buildings are going to be around for a long time, and now is the time to fix them, Jones added. Jones said improvements would attract more students to the district.

“It looks like a war zone, but we’re willing to endure a little inconvenience for the end product a place where students will want to come.”

From construction of a new high school entryway to the removal of material that once blocked skylights in the middle school, Jones sums up what so many students and faculty have hoped for in their new campus.

For now, all that can be seen of the new gym is its cement walls, but coach Amy Pankonin is ecstatic her volleyball team can finally play in regulation-size gymnasium next fall.

“It’s like a Christmas present for us,” she said.

The team agreed that it has been hard for them to come back to its cramped court after playing in nicer gyms.

“We don’t mean to be jealous of other people’s facilities, but it sure will be nice to have a gym with a little elbow room, something that we can be proud of,” Meg Hayne said.

With that, she flashed a big grin, as her teammates took one more wistful look at the big cement box that they will one day call their own.

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