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Students at Fall River might not recognize their school when they return to classrooms in a few weeks.

Since the end of June, the district has been working hard on its multi-million dollar renovation project, primarily funded through a referendum which passed in April. While a large portion of the referendum was earmarked for building the Prairie Street Athletic Complex, more than $2 million was also designated for infrastructure renovation at the school.

For Superintendent Mike Garrow, one of his most important goals is changing the look of the hallways to reflect school spirit and Pirate pride. Hallways and lockers have been stripped of previous colors and will soon be painted mostly red and black, Fall River’s school colors.

“This is phase one, so we have a ways to go, but we started getting rid of our yellows and greens, non-school colors, in our hallways and we’re now doing things with whites, grays, reds and blacks,” Garrow said. “It will tie in all of our school colors and brighten things up.”

The hallways will also feature student art and science, technology, engineering and math projects. Also donning the halls will be a gallery of canvas-printed sports photos showing Fall River athletes having success on the court and the field.

“When people come here and walk the hallways they will see what STEM does and what the different possibilities are for kids,” Garrow said. “With the canvas prints, it’s something for our kids to look forward to that will engrain themselves as part of this school. We have those prints made every year and sell them at our booster bash fundraiser, so I envision that these pictures will change every year.”

Garrow believes changing the look of the school will positively affect attitudes of faculty, staff and students.

“It’s a cosmetic piece that will hopefully have us feel good about our school and take pride in our school,” Garrow said. “When you take good care of things, students and staff take more pride in it and will tend to take care of it themselves.”

A group of students have also pitched in this summer, cleaning classrooms and painting hallways.

Improving security

Fall River is making upgrades to its technology, safety and security systems. The district recently received a $40,000 state grant to help offset costs for security improvements. Fall River IT Director Jake Hartman said the changes should make the building more secure and comfortable when students return to school in September.

Fall River added 15 new cameras, which will provide 30 additional views across the building. Hartman said the new cameras will cover “blind spots” staff couldn’t previously see. Through their smart phones, staff can access the camera system at any time. The district also ordered 10 additional radios to stay in regular contact with local law enforcement. In addition, Fall River is upgrading its paging system that Hartman said is about 20 years old.

“It works great, but it’s not integrated with the phone system,” Hartman said. “We also have a new phone system coming in on Aug. 20. My goal is to upgrade everything and make most of the teachers as mobile as possible.”

Fall River is also converting its computer server system from a hard server to a virtualized model. Hartman said the change will save on power, space and having a small room bogged down with cables. The district has installed new personal computers in the business, art and library labs. Students will have new smart display screens to learn from this fall.

For the recreation center, Fall River is working on new access controls to make it easier to use throughout the day. Users will be able to enter the facility 24 hours a day using a key fob device.

STEM possibilities grow

For Technology Education Teacher Brian Anderson, Fall River’s commitment to STEM opportunities is very intriguing. The district has already made several changes to labs and shop spaces, allowing students more hands-on learning experiences. Earlier this summer, the district converted buildings and grounds storage space to a new woodworking shop. Fall River is anticipating getting a laser for engraving purposes.

“It doesn’t matter what material it is, it will all be able to get engraved on,” Anderson said.

The new STEM lab will feature more learning stations with red and gray chairs and dark tables.

“Some schools would probably call it a FAB lab, but we’re branding it a STEM lab,” Anderson said. “The STEM name is better representative of where we’re going and what our vision is, which is to tie different aspects together to help kids put their hands on math, engineering and science as opposed to teaching it in three different environments.”

Anderson said the district visited other area schools, along with manufacturing companies in Fall River to generate ideas for the STEM lab. It also opens the door for collaboration projects between local manufacturers and the district.

“We ultimately will help support the workforce here in our community,” Garrow said.

Garrow said the upgrades offer students opportunities other local districts can’t provide.

Follow Kevin Damask on Twitter @kdamask or contact him at 608-963-7323.