Jackson students reap the benefit of new facilities, community commitment

Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Pictured is a portion of the commons area at Jackson High School. (Southeast Missourian file photo)

Jackson, though a relatively small town, has one of the largest school districts in the state, drawing from a wide rural region. The school has always maintained good academic standards, and school officials have long boasted about keeping a low cost-per-pupil ratio. Now, the school district has something to match its size and performance: sophisticated facilities.

The district in 2009 completed the first phase of a voter-approved $19.8 million project that took the high school from old and outdated to facilities some small colleges would envy.

A new gymnasium, called an events center, as well as a new cafeteria area and much needed classroom space for music and art programs were among the more noticeable improvements.

The students and faculty had input on the design of the building.

"The students have always done a wonderful job with limited facilities, but now they are thriving and can do what they need to do," said Dr. Ron Anderson, superintendent of the district.

Programs at the school, including music, art, agriculture and technology, are reaping the benefits.

"The feedback that I have received from the staff and the students is that they are just so excited and pleased with the space," said Anderson.

The successful band program has enjoyed the new spacious facilities.

Scott Vangilder, one of Jackson's band directors, said he is thrilled with the new facilities for the band and choir. He said Jackson now has the finest rehearsal facilities he has seen.

The new music addition contains three large band rehearsal rooms to accommodate a large population of band students, as well as a new choir rehearsal room with built in risers. Ten smaller rooms for individual or small group practice or instruction surround a central office occupied by Jackson's four band instructors.

Vangilder, the band and choir faculty, and the students moved into their new facility last October, and he said they could not be happier.

"I am just so grateful the community, the school board and the administration were able to do this for us," he said. "The band now has plenty of space to work, and all in all it's just a great setup," said Vangilder.

The art program also had very limited facilities available before the addition. In April, students began to use the new areas containing a painting booth, classrooms with good directional lighting, large sinks and expanded storage.

Anderson said the food service is now able to serve close to 100 students per minute, and students are enjoying expanded food choices and seating capacity in the commons area.

Last spring, graduation was held in the events center, and practices were held during the summer for several school programs. Anderson said the events center and commons area are convenient, of great quality, and suit multiple purposes.

"It's not just for sports; it's designed to accommodate performances as well," Anderson said. Space was also added to a primary annex of the school and converted to a facility for agriculture and technology programs. The agriculture program has taken advantage of a new shop and greenhouses and new labs.

Anderson said the second phase of construction will add 25 classrooms, a library and offices for the high school's new facilities. Hallways will then be constructed to adjoin all the new facilities.

Jackson's athletic director, John Martin, said athletes have enjoyed new locker rooms, but he said he sees how the new gymnasium will be used by many different organizations throughout the school.

"The football locker room is a huge improvement to what we've had in the past," said Martin, "because the junior varsity and varsity football teams are now under one roof."

Within the event center there is a team room where Martin said coaches can take the team's offense or defense and show film, as well as a training room and new coaches' office.

On the edges of the new gymnasium, there is a cardio workout room overlooking the football field and an aerobics room on the second tier, as well as a new weight room on the first floor. A Jumbotron scoreboard hangs over the center of the court, and a large replay screen is hung on the wall above the second tier.

The nearby commons contains an area for a concession stand to be used during sporting events held in the new event center.