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'This building is remarkable:' Wisconsin Dells' new high school opens for 2020-21 school year

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The new Wisconsin Dells High School on Brew Farm Road has only been open a week, but students and staff are already impressed with several features of the building.

What struck High School Counselor Kim Cummings, English Teacher Mike Michalsky and Physical Education Teacher Bobby Buss the most about the building is the natural light that flows throughout and the additional space, something they said the old high school didn’t have.

“This building is remarkable,” said Cummings, who has been employed with the school district for 16 years. “It is, I think, beyond anyone’s expectations.”

While the school is operating at the less than the 650 maximum capacity due to some students completing virtual learning and the shifting A/B schedules due to the coronavirus, Principal Hugh Gaston said he felt students and staff were getting along well in the new building.

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The high school, which will hold grades 9-12, was built with the help of a $33 million referendum passed by voters in 2018. The building was also funded with $27 million from the Dells premier resort tax raised by the city of Wisconsin Dells and the village of Lake Delton, a $3.2 million land donation from Todd and Shari Nelson, and a cash donation from Sally Olson Bracken of $500,000. The old high school is now the middle school.

District Administrator Terry Slack said some of the features in the building include more flexible space for science, technology, engineering and math classes and an expanded modern learning environment for classes like family consumer education, business and technology courses. Each section of the building is separated by subjects into wings and includes a commons area with furniture outside the classroom for collaboration.

Slack said other upgrades, besides the natural light to create a warm and inviting atmosphere, include higher ceilings and better ventilation. Slack said other details include the architecture to symbolize the geographic elements in the community, like the commons area with the blue tile and gold benches to represent the Wisconsin River and the sandstone bluffs.

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Slack said the recently completed gymnasium includes a walking track and fitness room while the outdoor facilities are about 50% complete. Those facilities will include soccer and practice fields, football/soccer stadium and four baseball and softball fields, he said. The upgraded sports facilities also provide an opportunity to host games and practices on site rather than travel off campus.

Space was one of the components in deciding to build the new high school. Slack said the 209,800 square foot building has a capacity to fit 650 students while the former high school, a 60-year-old and 127,000 square foot building, could only hold 466 students. Between grades 8-12, 675 students were packed into the old building last year.

Gaston said the old high school was so crammed, some teachers didn’t have their own classrooms. Slack said passing times between classes were shoulder to shoulder.

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Cummings and Michalsky both added the new building offers more than the old high school ever did. It includes an upgrade to the commons area, flex classrooms for hosting community groups and state of the art classrooms for learning opportunities, along with the sports complexes to the family and consumer science room with its kitchen facility.

Michalsky and Buss, who coach baseball and girls basketball respectively, said the upgrades to the outdoor athletic facilities are also exciting to see.

“You can already see the layout and it is going to be breathtaking,” Michalsky said. “It would be like a lot of Division III colleges.”

Some students were also impressed by the natural light and design of the building. Senior Brooke Hartley, 17, was impressed by the smaller collaboration areas located throughout the building.

“At the last school you were confined to one classroom, but now you have a little bit more freedom,” Hartley said.

Hartley added the new high school creates a more welcoming atmosphere.

“It’s just so open and inviting, you know, everything is in one area so everything is together and open,” Hartley said.

Due to the coronavirus, the grand opening for the community to see the building originally scheduled for Sept. 13 was postponed due to health and safety reasons. Gaston said the new date for the grand opening will be June 6, 2021, the same date as alumni weekend.

Follow Erica Dynes on Twitter @EDynes_CapNews or contact her at 608-393-5346.

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