When 16-year-old Makayla Patterson first came to McKinley Charter School, she thought the building resembled a Monopoly house or even a prison.
But on Wednesday, two weeks since the Eau Claire district charter school officially moved from its old building to the newly-constructed one, Patterson said it finally felt like an actual school.
“It’s bigger, it’s more space. It’s like a school for real now, you know?” said Patterson, who chuckled as she reminisced on the first time she saw the building after deciding to transfer from North High School about two years ago. “When I first came here for a meeting, I thought I was coming to a prison, and that’s why I had attitude that night, I remember. It’s just in the middle of nowhere and always looked sort of abandoned. Now, it looks like something.”
McKinley principal Pete Riley said students and staff moved into the new school on Jan. 2, the first day back from winter break. Though the project is not yet fully completed — the old school will likely be razed over spring break and the breezeway connecting the new school to the gymnasium will be constructed in early summer — Riley said programming has transitioned completely to the new building and the excitement is palpable.
“We’re still kind of letting the dust settle, but everything’s going great. ... People really worked hard and the students did a fantastic job helping get the classrooms together. We’re really happy,” Riley said. “It’s brightened the spirit of this place.”
The project, which was part of the district’s $87.9 million referendum passed in 2016, included a new building adjacent to the old in order to accommodate from a growing amount of students, Riley said. The original building is about 7,548 square feet, and the new space is about 10,750.
With about 220 students currently enrolled in programs that require them to be on site, that’s not very much space, Riley said.
“There’s more need than we were able to give,” Riley said.
Not only does the new school provide a more modern environment, but it also included a new office, as well as a new classroom area for the school’s competency component program. That space includes a larger classroom space and two smaller, more private study rooms.
Riley said the new room is much more accommodating to students who have anxiety or struggle with learning in large groups — two common reasons students decide to transfer from a traditional high school setting to the smaller charter school.
“When these kids leave a high school because they have anxiety issues, having a one-room school with every chair full — that’s not a great setting for them,” Riley said. “A regular public high school isn’t for everybody, so if they need a change, we now can give that to them here.”
Karissa Wright, who transferred from Memorial to McKinley for the school’s competency program about a year ago, said she can already tell the new building is even more conducive to learning than it was before.
“I think it’s really good for mental health because there’s more than one area — there’s a little more separation if you want it, but you can also get help whenever you need,” said Wright, who has ADHD and a learning disability. “It’s really good for me, and much healthier for me than Memorial was.”
Megan McCrackin, a competency facilitator at McKinley, said the new space has also been an exciting development for staff — though, what’s more exciting is to see the students’ reactions, she said.
“They feel proud; they feel happy walking in,” McCrackin said. “They deserve that, and a new space. I’m glad they got it.”
Larry Sommerfield, the district’s buildings and grounds director, expects the full project will be complete by the end of the summer.