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Officials show off Austin's new school

AUSTIN — Leaders of the new I.J. Holton Intermediate School offered media members a guided tour Wednesday of the new building, where all of Austin's fifth- and sixth-grade students will begin roaming the halls for the 2013-14 school year.

Jean McDermott and Lynn Hemann, who will serve as IJ Holton's principal and assistant principal, touted the facility's open floor plan and adaptable space. Some of the highlights include walls that double as marker boards, interior garage doors that can be raised to combine multiple classrooms and a main hallway that will be marked off like an extended ruler that runs the length of the building.

"The building itself is a learning experience," Hemann said.

Construction of the new school is on schedule, despite some unusual spring weather. After breaking ground last May, the project is expected to wrap up July 15. All the interior and exterior walls have been erected, but installing the floors and most of the painting remains to be done. All of the interior and exterior doors and windows must also be added.

Furniture, such as desks and tables, will be moved in this summer, with teachers likely gaining full access in August.


When classes begin next September, 750 students will get their first glimpse inside the doors; capacity is 880. Visitors, however, will enjoy much more limited access. The front doors will lead into a lobby area where a receptionist must grant access to the rest of the building. Additionally, windows are common throughout the building's interior to allow for easier supervision of the students.

"Teachers and staff will always be able to have eyes on the building," McDermott said.

The two-story school will have 18 classrooms and two designated science labs off the main hallway on each floor. The adaptable nature of that space figures to be a boon for the STEM curriculum, which parents were able to learn about during a series of public meetings in March. That inquiry-based learning will be expanded in Austin to include arts, effectively creating a STEAM curriculum.

The building will also have three areas for special education, including a space equipped with numerous appliances to help teach life skills.

Each room will be outfitted with special energy-efficient lighting. The lights will come on when someone enters a room and go off when the room empty, which is fairly standard. However, the sensors will also measure the amount of natural light in each room. If the amount of natural light is sufficient in one portion, the corresponding segment of ceiling lights will remain off to conserve energy.

The band room has acoustic tiles in the ceiling, while the adjacent orchestra and choir room was created without any right angles to help improve sound.

"It's interesting how when the Sheetrock goes up, how much bigger it looks," McDermott said. "You'd think once you start bringing things in, it'd look smaller — but it doesn't. Once rooms became rooms, it really shows the spaciousness."

While planning and construction of the building have both been relatively smooth, two key questions will remain unresolved until this fall: IJ Holton's official school mascot and colors. Students will have the opportunity to weigh in with their opinions.

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