Things are settling into a routine at Juneau-Douglas High School despite exposed pipes on the ceilings, the occasional din of a jackhammer and traffic jams in the halls.
"The kids have been incredible, they have been so mellow," said Assistant Principal Laury Roberts Scandling, as she gave a meaningful look to a tardy, peasant-blouse-wearing student in the hall after lunch Friday. Scandling said generally the student body was resilient and adapting well to the changes.
The main issues in the first weeks were noise and overcrowding in the halls, especially as it related to fire exit plans, according to Principal Deb Morse. The noise problems have been resolved, she said, and the school is working on the crowded halls.
"We have had some issues with noise the first day or two but we asked teachers to notify us immediately," Morse said. "(The equipment operators) don't start up until 3 p.m. now."
The first and most invasive phase of the $19.3 million renovation project began this summer and will be completed in February. The entire renovation should be finished by late 2003 when students will have a new atrium, commons area, lockers, windows, elevator and communication systems.
The Juneau Assembly awarded the bid for the renovation project in May against the recommendation of the Juneau School Board. The board preferred a plan to renovate the high school after a second high school was constructed at Dimond Park to lessen the effect on students.
On Friday, Morse, walkie-talkie in hand, was coordinating a plan to relocate some vending machines and lockers to ease congestion in a hallway on the way to the Marie Drake building, which is housing extra high school classes during construction.
"Students come here, start visiting, then it gets crowded," she said.
Morse was acting at the suggestion of Juneau Fire Marshall Randy Waters who, along with city building official Chris Roust, inspected the school on Friday. The two officials visited the school after calls from parents who were concerned some areas were too crowded for students to exit safely, Waters said.
"We were there just observing movement patterns in one of the hallways in particular, looking at some egress concerns," he said, referring to a narrow hallway that runs outside the room where the students eat lunch. "We are still trying to iron everything out, (in relation to new fire exit plans). ... I think (the school) is safe."
The school has had two planned fire drills to work out the bugs in the new exit plans, Morse said.
At height of passing time in the most crowded spot, a tight hallway on the second floor of the high school near a stairway, students tried to squirm out of what looked like a tame mosh pit packed in a doorway on Friday. A few boys in football jerseys, a bit taller that the general fray, shook their heads at the mess. A girl lugging a book bag dodged a young man in a wheelchair as he rolled down a nearby ramp into a sea of bodies.
Parent Kathleen Soga, whose daughter uses a wheelchair, was still concerned Friday about the number of kids in the halls. This year her daughter has found herself "stranded" in gridlocked areas.
"My daughter was rescued twice by another kind student because she was stuck in the crowd and couldn't move," Soga said. "I think this sets up a compromised student experience."
Morse said she was aware disabled students had run into some problems in the halls, but said special emergency exiting plans had been honed during recent weeks so the three wheelchair-bound students at the school could go to "safe spots" where they would be assisted by school personnel.
Generally, as students have gotten used to the new traffic patterns, planned for longer travel-time between different areas of the school and used alternative routes, the hall crowding has lessened, Scandling said.
In most areas of the school, during passing time on Friday, the conditions were close, but not packed. Students moved freely, weaving around each other like binder-clutching salmon moving upstream.
Roust, who inspected the school for occupancy issues, agreed traffic patterns were largest problem, and that as those adjusted, the students would more evenly distribute, easing some of the congestion. Clearing the halls of obstructions, such as vending machines, would help too. By city standards, the school does not exceed occupancy limits, he said.
"Based on the square footage of the classrooms, (the high school) is not overcrowded in the areas that we observed," Roust said. "The hallway doesn't have an occupancy (limit). The problem is that one of the hallways meets exit requirements, but it doesn't assume that everyone in the school is going to be using that corridor, which is what had happened."
Julia O'Malley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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