HERMON — Imagine a cattle drive barreling through a museum.
Shortly before 8 a.m. Tuesday, area students were turned loose into the new $12.3 million high school, an immaculate, modern structure that will help propel education into the next century.
The flannel-and-jeans-clad teens flowed into the entryway, awash in morning sunlight, as they searched for their bearings. Inside the administration office, a sort of command post for the hectic first week, a stack of maps awaited those trying to find their way among the still-white walls and the classroom wings that spread out like lobster claws.
While no one wants to insult the old Hermon High, which was built in 1953 and now serves as the town’s middle school, the new building is a showcase for design and purpose.
With the freshmen already in place — they arrived Monday — the upperclassmen arrived at a school bursting with state-of-the-art equipment.
Crystal-clear beakers and Bunsen burners lined the shelves of a laboratory; 350 comfortable theater seats awaited students in a cavernous auditorium; computers that will soon reach the information highway were stacked in boxes; a basketball court gleamed under the lights; and chairs not yet burdened with wads of gum sat in silent rows.
Students — who can park in their own spaces in front of the building — will eat lunch at small tables and booths rather than at rows of plebeian benches, and the multimedia system will allow them to check out courses at other schools. Even the lockers are twice the size of the old ones.
For some students, the colossal structure might have been a tad overwhelming, at least on the first day.
“It’s too big,” senior John Roach said as he headed for class.
Mostly, though, the school received rave reviews.
“I think it’s great for the students and the town,” said junior Kit McCall.
Lori Hannan and Alanna Turner, two seniors headed out after classes ended Tuesday, said they enjoyed the spacious, brand-spanking-new atmosphere of attending school here.
“It’s just set up nice,” Turner said.
When things settle down somewhat in the next few days, attendance will reach an estimated 500 students, about 50 students more than at the old high school last year, and about 100 shy of the structure’s capacity, said Principal Patricia Duran.
True, the building itself is like a new toy to students and staff, but school officials also worked to ensure that its contents measure up to the cosmetics.
Just up the hall from the auditorium, the technical education room has a dozen modules, each of which is designed to help a student learn a particular trade. From robotics to aerodynamics to video production, students here will prepare themselves for a technical education, a new program inaugurated along with the school.
Here, students will learn applied math and physics in one of the most modern programs in the state, according to Robert Dondero, the technical education teacher.
The library also will have access to loan programs from other institutions around the state, so any student wishing to do that term paper on Medieval English literature will find the materials needed.
The students, said school officials, will be treated as if they are the owners of the building in the hope that they will take good care of it.
“We hope to create an atmosphere to motivate them,” said Sid Stather, a cooperative education teacher. “The opportunities are just endless here.”
During a morning assembly, Duran welcomed the students to “a great attitude and a great new way of life at Hermon High School.”
These are students, though, and a mumble-mumble-mumble echoed off the acoustic tiles as Duran rolled out the welcome mat.
“A lot of things have changed, but one thing has not changed — Mrs. Duran will not talk while you’re talking,” the principal admonished.
(If not for the factory-fresh carpeting, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop).
While there are still a few unfinished spots — all the furniture hasn’t yet arrived, computers are still rolling in, the telephone system isn’t fully operating, and much of the grass outside has yet to sprout — Duran said parts of the school will soon be opened to the community.
Rooms devoted to health and fitness, which will include exercise equipment, will be available to residents, as will some of the library’s facilities.
“The more we get them in, the happier we’re going to be,” Duran, a graduate of the old high school, said. “We don’t want to be isolated.”