Liberty Hill makes history with opening of new and expanded facilities

Outside the new Liberty Hill Intermediate School are from left, Principal Kathy Major, Counselor Margaret Wofford, Assistant Principal Scott Copeland and Receptionist Jane Serrato. (Photo by Shelly Wilkison)

Outside the new Liberty Hill Intermediate School are from left, Principal Kathy Major, Counselor Margaret Wofford, Assistant Principal Scott Copeland and Receptionist Jane Serrato. (Photo by Shelly Wilkison)

The Liberty Hill Independent School District is making history this month as it begins school August 27 with new academic and athletic facilities, and renovations to existing buildings that were approved by voters in an $86 million bond package three years ago.

The new Liberty Hill High School, which includes a 300,000-square-foot academic building and new athletic facilities, is difficult to miss on State Highway 29 just west of Liberty Hill. Today, traffic lights at the two main entrances to the school are flashing yellow in an attempt to get drivers accustomed to slowing down for heavy traffic there in the coming days.

While much has been written about the new high school and its athletic facilities, the changes at the new Liberty Hill Intermediate School are exciting improvements for staff, who packed their belongings this summer and left behind the community’s oldest campus.

In 2014, the old Intermediate campus will become the home to the school district’s administrative offices. Superintendent Rob Hart said the current administration building on State Highway 29 will be sold.

Principal Kathy Major said that construction crews are working around the clock to prepare the new Intermediate School for students and faculty.

“It will all be ready for the kids,” she said.

On August 8, most of the new addition to the school was still under heavy construction, including the cafeteria, band hall and some hallways. She said she expects some of the work to continue into the beginning weeks of the school year.

“You have to remember that junior high students were eating lunch in here on June 7,” she said. Demolition and new construction could not begin until the last lunch tray was packed away.

Hart said the project is not behind schedule and parents should not be concerned. He said the construction should be substantially complete by the first week of school.

Mrs. Major said the building is arranged so that fifth and sixth grade teaching teams are separate. In effect, the plan keeps the grade levels apart for much of the school day. During those formative years, the separation can make a positive difference, she said.

“For some, that (intermediate level) is confusing because they don’t know if we’re a middle school or an elementary school,” Mrs. Major said. “But our mission is to be an elementary school and a transition to junior high.”

She said younger students especially feel more comfortable with their grade-level peers, while sixth grade students are learning routines and habits to prepare them for junior high.

The new campus is a stark difference from the former school. Mrs. Major and Assistant Principal Scott Copeland had much to say about the many improvements during a tour with The Independent. In addition to an expanded library, band hall, combined cafeteria and auditorium, art room, additional classrooms and administrative offices, the building is equipped with security features that make the building a safe place for students and employees.

From the start of the school day until the final bell rings, public access to the building will be available only at the front entrance. Visitors must pass through the reception area as other doors will remain locked. Such is the case at the Junior High and new high school campuses as well. Video cameras will be functional at all buildings so that hallways and major areas can be monitored.

“The fact that we’re all in one building now is so much safer,” Mrs. Major said. “Security is so much better and I feel like we are as secure here as we can be.”

During a tour of the new high school August 8, Principal Bobby Mabry was quick to note the added security features on that campus.

He said the main entrance to the building is secured on a timer so that once the final bell rings, a second set of doors inside the main entrance is locked. Students and visitors must stop at a secured reception area to gain access. Other doors remain locked from the outside. Mabry said security cameras are positioned throughout the campus at 90 different locations.

The new high school is designed  so that classrooms for each grade level are grouped together. Mabry said the plan creates a better learning community for students. And in a space as large as the new academic building, grouping core subjects together by grade level reduces travel time between classes, he said.

Each wing has its own computer lab and restroom facilities, as well as a teacher workroom. Science classrooms are equipped with labs eliminating the need to change rooms for lab work. There are multiple art rooms, a state-of-the art welding and vocational area, computer classrooms, a dance room for the Liberty Belles, and a culinary arts area equipped with a commercial kitchen that would be the envy of restaurant or culinary teaching facility. A second-floor library will no doubt become a popular study area furnished with comfortable seating areas and meeting rooms.

Also in the main building are the main gym, which has above-ground seating for 1,200 people. Two sub-varsity gyms can be separated with a curtain allowing for tournaments and multiple practices.

The cafeteria in the new high school is large enough to reduce the number of lunch periods from three to two. With four serving lines, plenty of seating indoors and outdoors, lunch should be a more enjoyable time for students. The cafeteria also has its own open stage area.

While there are many other features of the new high school that will be discovered in the coming weeks by students, faculty and the community, it may be the auditorium that has the biggest impact on visitors in the coming days. Able to seat 900 people, the auditorium will have its debut on August 21 as all of the school district’s employees gather together for the opening convocation of the school year.

“We are overwhelmed at how nice this is,” Mabry said. “It’s a great time to be a Panther!”