Tour the new Thomas Jefferson High School at its open house
The long-anticipated opening of the new $95 million, 300,000 square foot Thomas Jefferson High School is finally here.
On Aug. 18, the West Jefferson Hills School District will open the doors to the school, located at 830 Old Clairton Road, for the community to see. Following a VIP, invite-only ribbon cutting and dedication ceremony earlier that day, community members will have the chance to walk the halls from 3 to 8 p.m.
“There’s a lot of excitement and anticipation to finally see everything that everyone has heard about for so long,” Superintendent Michael Ghilani said. “I’m sure for some — especially those that have been around TJ for a long time — there’s almost a sense of disbelief because they’ve heard there’s going to be a new high school for 20 years.”
The new school, patterned after Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, Va., with a red brick facade and white pillars at the entry, features arts, academic and athletic wings. The school, which has been talked about for decades and in the works for several years, was set to open for the 2018-19 school year, but several delays pushed back the opening to 2019-20.
“I think the wait proved to be worth it,” Ghilani said. “The community is invested.”
During the open house, students will be stationed at key locations throughout the building where they, along with administrators, can answer questions about the school, said Carrie Lekse, public relations consultant. Light refreshments will be served.
District leaders say it’s hard to point out just one feature that makes this school stand out.
“Every time I walk in, it’s something new. It’s the entire building,” Lekse said. “Just the light, the windows, there’s so much natural light.”
A mural, commissioned by TJ Arts, that adorns the wall above the atrium, will be unveiled during the VIP event. It will greet visitors as they enter the brightly lit school.
“When you walk through it, it’s not a traditional high school,” Ghilani added. “It gives us a lot of flexibility and supports the type of instruction we want to see.”
Some key highlights of the school include the eight-lane Myrtha competitive pool, that features a zero-depth entry point, so it’s accessible to all.
The theater is another highlight district leaders point to, with the Electronic Theater Controls software platform and fixtures, it uses some of the same technology used on Broadway stages, Lekse said. The theater will offer seating for 1,000, up by about 300 from the old school.
The gymnasium now seats 1,400, about 500 more seats than the old school.
The wide hallways in the athletic wing include synthetic turf, designed for gym instruction and athletic training inside the school.
The student center, what would be a cafeteria in most schools, is designed to look more like a college student center or restaurant, Ghilani said.
The school also features outdoor classroom spaces, a separate secure entrance for the child development daycare program and a fenced in playground for the children who participate, along with a recording and production studio and upgraded TJ TV studio.
Each classroom is different, thanks to flexible seating, Ghilani said. A team of teachers toured a school in Mentor, Ohio that utilized flexible seating building-wide. They brought that concept back to TJ.
The furniture in each classroom is meant to be moved around to meet the needs of the individual lesson.
While the building will be ready for the open house, Ghilani cautions that there are things that still need to be completed.
“It’s done, but not polished,” he said. “There are some issues we’re working through. They’re issues, but they’re issues that aren’t going to affect children’s education or really that people are even going to be able to see.”
For example, the grass might not be fully ready and the guard shack might not be installed at the entrance.
During the open house, two buses will be available to transport people back to the old Thomas Jefferson High School to walk the hallways one final time.
That’s a request district leaders have been getting and they wanted to make sure to provide people with that opportunity, Lekse said.
Students will have the chance to tour the new school first, with information sessions planned for juniors and seniors on Aug. 14 and for freshman and sophomores on Aug. 15.
School leaders say they’ve been hearing from community members of all ages about the new building. They plan for it to be a community asset, not just for those with kids in high school.
“We plan on using it in a way that will benefit everyone, from families whose kids aren’t in school yet, to senior citizens whose kids long graduated,” Ghilani said. “There are ways to use this to benefit everyone.”