ST. JOHN | Lake Central High School students unwrapped their last Christmas present Thursday when they walked into the newly renovated high school building.
Construction of the new three-story academic wing at the high school began in mid-2012, and students officially began to use the building after the long Christmas break and another three days off because of the frigid weather.
Seniors Cory Glatt, 18, and Robert Ryan, 18, both liked the wide hallways.
"It's different. It's newer. It's a lot better than the old building. The classrooms actually seem a little small, though, because the desks are bigger," Glatt said.
Junior Gloria Maxwell, 16, said she loves the new building.
"It has three floors and each floor is like a big circle, and it's really, really big," Maxwell said. "There's a lot more space. The lockers are bigger, and the classrooms are a decent size. It was way overcrowded in the old building. In the hallways, people would be pushing and shoving to get through. The hallways weren't big enough, and there were too many people. They needed to make some improvements."
Junior Samantha Born, 17, said she liked the old building better.
"This is going to take some time to get used to. It's too much. ... It's hard getting around. It looks nice, but it's a little over the top," she said.
The Lake Central School Corp. funded the renovations with money from a $160 million construction referendum approved in 2011.
The district went directly to taxpayers to ask for a tax increase to make major renovations to the high school and construct a new Protsman Elementary School in Dyer. Protsman will be complete in the spring.
The community voted against a $95 million construction referendum in May 2009 but approved a similar measure in 2011 after the district launched a grassroots campaign pushing for a tax increase to improve its aging facilities.
Lake Central Superintendent Larry Veracco said three-fourths of the money is being spent at the high school.
Contractors began work in June 2012 and divided the project into two phases. The first consisted of the academic wing, which stands three stories and houses about 100 classrooms, a 50-meter competition swimming pool and locker rooms.
The second phase will begin after demolition of the older, existing school. The phase will include a building featuring a fine arts band area, a 1,000-seat auditorium, a large media center, a large gym, a wrestling room and administrative offices. Contractors expect to be complete in December 2015.
The current administrative office building will be demolished and become part of the parking lot. When all of the work is complete, the new high school will be 875,000 square feet.
Schmidt Associates, of Indianapolis, is the architect on both projects. Construction managers are Turner Construction, which has offices in Indianapolis and Chicago, and Powers & Sons, of Gary.
Lake Central School Corp. serves about 9,800 students from St. John, Dyer and Schererville. The high school has an enrollment of 3,250 students.
Lake Central Assistant Principal Richard Moore said the old high school had crowded hallways.
"We have a much better numbering system for the building, and the desks in the classrooms are a little larger to accommodate the different work spaces that students need," he said.
Veracco said there was some discussion about building a second high school rather than renovating the current building.
"We could not build a second high school because there was no money to staff it. We don't get enough money from the state to operate a second high school," he said.
"Being a large high school affords you many advantages, including being able to have many academic offerings and dual-credit classes."