DANVILLE — The halls outside of North Ridge Middle School's classrooms have been noticeably quieter since students returned from winter break.
Officials attribute that to the new cafetorium, which opened for business on Thursday.
"It's already made such a tremendous difference in the climate of the building," Principal Jason Bletzginer said.
That's because students no longer have to eat in three commons areas, and students and staff in surrounding classrooms no longer have to put up with the noise.
"The kids love it," Bletzginer continued. "They are taking a lot of pride in their school."
The public will have a chance to see the cafetorium and other changes made during the school's $13.8 million renovation at a dedication ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Monday. The ceremony will take place in the cafetorium on the east side of the school, at 1619 N. Jackson St.
The ceremony will include several speakers, performances by a band ensemble, an orchestra ensemble, the Redcoats show choir and a member of the school's theater group. In addition, guests will see an ongoing slideshow of the renovation, which started a year ago, and can tour the building.
The North Ridge renovation was the second project in an aggressive plan to address the district's three most problematic buildings over a three-year period. The $12.3 million South View Middle School renovation was completed last March, and the $12.5 million East Park Elementary School renovation started over the winter break.
While East Park is the largest, officials said North Ridge was the most complex project. That's because the building has two levels on the east end and sits on a hilly terrain squeezed into a tight area bordered by the American Legion and a wooded area, which made construction and staging equipment more difficult.
The project called for adding a sloped metal roof; installing a new HVAC system, energy-efficient "storefront" windows and shades and new exterior doors; replacing the entire plumbing systems; updating the electrical system; and installing touchless commodes, urinals, faucets and hand driers in restrooms. It also called for painting the building; cutting windows into the gymnasium and recladding the gym; adding an atrium between the gym and cafeteria and installing an elevator; installing a security system; building a canopy over the front door and realigning the door for added security; adding parking and resurfacing roads; and installing more than 800 lockers to provide one for each student. Before, students had to share.
While that work was needed to make the building viable well into the future, officials were especially grateful for the cafetorium.
Superintendent Mark Denman said the two middle schools and East Park opened in 1961 without cafeterias because the district ran out of money during their construction. Officials hoped to add them later, but that never happened, leaving students to eat in the schools' commons areas.
"It really created a noise situation," Bletzinger said, adding that caused a disruption to activities in the surrounding classrooms. "Now with the high ceilings and acoustic panels having 250 kids in the new cafetorium is more quiet than having 80 to 100 kids in the commons area."
The facility, which features a modern kitchen and stage, comfortably seats 300 for meals and 485 to 500 people for other events. Bletzinger said students are already using the stage to practice for upcoming show choir competitions and a theater festival.
In addition to perfomances, Bletzinger said the facility will be used for other academic activities and training for teachers.
Now crews are turning the commons areas into six classrooms. The work is set to be completed and ready for use in February.