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Work nearly complete on McCook Central $7 million project

SALEM -- As McCook Central students and staff depart for fall break, they're thankful for the future of the school district. After nearly a year of construction, McCook Central is expected to get its first sampling around Christmas of a $7.1 mill...

Construction crews work on a $7 million building project Tuesday afternoon at the McCook Central School in Salem. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)
Construction crews work on a $7 million building project Tuesday afternoon at the McCook Central School in Salem. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)

SALEM - As McCook Central students and staff depart for fall break, they're thankful for the future of the school district.

After nearly a year of construction, McCook Central is expected to get its first sampling around Christmas of a $7.1 million building project that replaces a town staple and will house middle and high school students.

In February, crews demolished the "1924 building," aptly named for the year it was built, a landmark of the district's educational history. And in its place now stands a two-story, 36,386 square-foot addition housing a stage, performing arts center, bathrooms, administrative offices, high school classrooms, commons areas and middle school classrooms. In total, the addition will have 12 classrooms, four of which will be ready for use in the next month. The rest of the facility is expected to be completed at the end of January.

"We want a building that the community can have pride in and we want a building that can attract people to our area," said McCook Central Superintendent Dan Swartos on Tuesday. "

Voters in the school district approved the project in June 2015, after school officials identified a need for either a remodel or reconstruction, and the decision was quickly made by administration that a new building would be the most cost-effective. A remodel to address a weakening wood roof structure and crumbling clay tile walls would have cost approximately $5.5 million, $2 million fewer than a new building.

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Bonds have funded about 40 percent ($2.85 million) of the project, with existing capital outlay funds designated for the remaining $4.25 million.

"I think it says a lot about the community that they're open-minded and value the school," Swartos said. "They see a future in the school and know if they want the community to grow they need a solid school with good facilities."

In the 1924 building, Swartos said classrooms were "bowling alley-shaped" - long and narrow, a design not suitable for growing class sizes. Classrooms in the new addition are more "traditional," Swartos said, with a square or rectangle design. Additionally, the project adds handicap-accessible entrances and an elevator for the first and second floors, which will be installed Monday.

Musicals, programs and plays are currently held in the school's gymnasium, where acoustics are less than ideal, Swartos said. So incorporating a stage and performing arts center was important in the district's pursuit of the project, because, following FFA, band and choir are McCook Central's most popular extracurriculars, according to Swartos.

With ongoing construction, temporary classes have been scattered around the school.

The wrestling room and band rooms were each divided into three separate classrooms, while some teachers use lobby and gym areas.

And the "controlled chaos" is not limited to teachers and staff.

In the spring, the school purchased a house south of the school on North Dakota Street, where administrative offices are now located, including that of Swartos. With the completion of the project, the lots purchased by the school will be leveled and turned into additional parking space.

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And while some were sad to see the 1924 building go, Swartos said, most were receptive to the project and are anxiously awaiting its completion.

"The 1924 building wasn't serving us the ways we needed it to and it wasn't a good representation of our school district or our town anymore," Swartos said. "Really, (the project) solves quite a few problems - it was time."

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