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Springfield Hillcrest’s renovation challenging for students, but the transformation is eye-popping

Published: Aug. 25, 2021 at 7:55 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - There are many new construction projects going on in the Springfield Public School system thanks to the $169 million bond issue passed by voters in 2019.

Two new elementary schools, Boyd and Williams, just opened at the start of the school year and Hillcrest high school is about halfway through its $30 million renovation that is truly a sight to behold for alumni who have passed through its halls since it was built in 1957.

“They would have a hard time recognizing some of it,” said Hillcrest Principal Rob Kroll.

It starts at the front parking lot which is full of fencing and equipment for the continuing construction that won’t be completed until 2023.

There’s a new front to the building that leads into a newly-remodeled shiny entry hall.

All the cramped, dark hallways with exposed duct work have now been replaced with wider, brighter halls and a hallway now connects the main building to the physical education gym.

So far only the specialty classrooms have been completed such as the award-winning HTV media center with its own podcast room and editing facilities, the cooking and fashion classrooms, wood and welding shops, and the school’s centerpiece... a library and study area with hive-shaped light fixtures in honor of the school’s mascot. the Hornets.

“This is one of the most overhauled spaces,” Kroll said. “It is a renovated gymnasium that was just a big brick box with no windows. Our librarians are amazing and they put together what they wanted to have and our architects went to work. So an old gym with no windows now has plenty of natural light coming through with two classrooms, two study rooms, flexible seating throughout and large enough space for out entire staff to meet here.”

With much of the work done over the summer, the transformation from the old school to new school really hit home when teachers and students arrived this week for the start of the fall semester.

“I watched two teachers when they walked in and there were tears in their eyes,”Kroll said. “The students were trying to figure out where they were standing. They knew they were standing in roughly the same area they stood before but they just couldn’t get their bearings.”

“It’s amazing,” said Hillcrest junior Avery Marmon of the changes at the school. “It doesn’t look the same at all.”

“It’s definitely different,” added fellow junior Zao Shatto. “Before there were walls all around and everything was very closed off but now it’s a much more open concept.”

While other schools have transferred students out to other facilities or kept them in their old schools while building new schools at different locations, Hillcrest students have remained in place while the beehive of construction activity has swarmed around them.

And it hasn’t always been easy.

“Especially at the end of last year it was crazy,” Shatto recalled. “I was in a class right above where they were building and you couldn’t hear a thing the teacher said. We couldn’t talk without having to yell so we had to go to another classroom because we couldn’t learn in that space.”

And with the general classroom wing still to be built students are going to makeshift spaces at an annex separate from the school, the classrooms in the library and temporary classrooms installed behind bleachers in the gym.

“We have eight-to-ten teachers right now who don’t have a classroom,” Kroll explained. “They are traveling from one space to another. Working through a renovation and being on site has posed its challenges. But everyone has kept an extremely positive attitude because we all know what we were in and what we were getting.”

And it appears that this is more than just a physical transformation.

There’s a thing called pride.

“We’re probably going to work better in a space that we like to be in,” Shatto said. “And of course we’re going to compare ourselves to Kickapoo and Glendale and how their schools look. Now that our school is rebuilt we can say we have the best school in SPS.”

“I think it’s cool that we are one of the only classes that got to see how it was with no renovations then at the end with everything done,” Marmon added.

“We want to remind our students that it doesn’t matter what side of town you live on, you mean a lot,” Kroll said. “I heard (students) say, ‘I can’t believe we got all of this’ and I’m like, ‘Why? You’re totally worth it.’ It’s hoped that all this changes the hopes and the expectations of what comes out of Hillcrest high school. Now they have this incredible space that’s beginning to develop around them I believe it’s transforming far more than just the physical environment. It’s transforming the spirit and culture of Hillcrest as well.”

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