Thirteen days and counting

The new Bloomfield Hills High School is ready to welcome its student body with open arms

By: Elizabeth Scussel | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published August 25, 2015

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BLOOMFIELD HILLS — The time has come. 

Neither Old Man Winter nor Mother Nature — with their floods, bitter temperatures and record-breaking snowfall — could knock construction off track at the new Bloomfield Hills High School.

According to Shira Good, director of communications for Bloomfield Hills Schools, crews are moving a million miles a minute in the final phases of construction.

“There’s some places in the school where you look and think, ‘Yeah, this is ready to move students in tomorrow,’” she said. “Other places may not look that way.”

Teachers will soon be making moves into classroom spaces, and the administrative staff will soon inhabit their new offices.

In less than two weeks, nearly all of the 371,687 square feet of the new state-of-the-art campus will be bustling with new residents.

The exceptions will be the auditorium and the pool — which were originally planned to take a bit longer. Those areas are slated to open Jan. 1, 2016.

The district broke ground on the building in June 2013. Two-thirds of the final product is new construction, and one-third is renovated original space of the former Andover High School.

The campus will not resemble a traditional high school floorplan — missing will be a cafeteria and hallways filled with rows of lockers.

Instead, the layout will emphasize the multipurpose use of every space for instruction, gathering and collaboration. The building, as well as the school’s curriculum, will stray slightly from conventional norms.

“It’s a very different concept and environment,” Good said, describing the BHS experience as a collegiate work environment full of open spaces.

While the high school will still offer lockers to students, Good said the lockers are smaller than those in the past because many students don’t use their lockers to the extent they used to.

Classroom necessities are now limited to a backpack and a tablet, she said.

Seven “learning communities” in the school will consist of open, flexible spaces where students can study and eat lunch without traveling to a separate area of the school, and faculty will share “collaboration suites” within each community. All spaces will be equipped with ergonomic chairs, tables and desks.

With mostly glass walls, the learning communities offer a view of a centralized, multiuse courtyard. The area will provide shade and bench seating all around for teachers to move their classrooms into the fresh air.

The campus will also feature “distributed dining” throughout the building, as well as a main serving area along the school’s  “main street” corridor.

“We’re creating a flexible learning environment, and no space will be wasted,” Good said. “When students are more comfortable, they are more apt to learn. This barrier-free learning environment facilitates collaboration between teachers and students.”

Class structure will also differ from that of a traditional high school — with a crossover of core curriculum classes. Subjects will be taught using interactive technology, and teachers will collaborate and overlap subject material.

“We don’t want the students engaged in things they don’t want to be doing,” Good said, explaining that the educational experience is shifting into facilitation and engagement, not just memorizing material.

Good said the high school environment will be very trusting, using passive supervision.

“It will definitely be a big culture shift and a different environment for them, but we know they’ll be great with it. It gives these students a chance to succeed at a higher rate and deeper level. Children will feel more comfortable. It gives them a chance to shine.”

As far as the student body assimilating to such a culture shift, Good is feeling positive.

“I think they’ll do great. They’ve been ready for something like this for a while,” she said. “Now we finally have a building to support that, and they’re definitely ready to embrace it.”

The staff is ready to embrace the shift as well, she said.

“Our teachers are so capable of lighting the fire, and (this school) space reflects that.”

To ensure understanding among students and staff, Good said the first week of school will be used as an orientation period for everyone to learn the rules, norms and expectations.

The new school also offers features to keep students, staff and visitors safe.

In fact, BHHS will serve as the first school in Michigan to install the BluePoint Alert System — a series of high-tech devices that work much like a fire alarm system.

“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” said Superintendent Rob Glass in a prepared statement. “Designing a new school building was a wonderful opportunity to explore new safety systems, and we are pleased to be able to use the BluePoint system in our district.”

At the first sign of an emergency, any individual can activate the system at one of the multiple pull stations throughout the building.

The alarm will alert all occupants of danger, including students and staff with disabilities, as it offers strobe lights and an audio system to quickly alert those individuals.

Emergency personnel and law enforcement are also notified when the system is activated — expediting a rapid response.

“It’s really more than seconds. It adds minutes for building occupants to seek safety,” Good said. “We know that the faster the police arrive, the faster an emergency will be over.”

Good said keeping on financial track with the building has been challenging, but since it wasn’t a totally new build, some funds were taken from the sinking fund to renovate the older parts of the building.

But, all in all, the district is feeling good.

“It may not be the first day — in fact, it may take until the day they graduate — but we hope students know how much went into (the new high school),” Good said. “We’ve all poured our heart and soul into this. I hope they see that passion for education.”

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