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GHS unveils new look

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By April Wright, Reporter

It seemed like an endless project, but the wait is finally over and students, faculty and staff of Galax High School can now enjoy a like-new renovated school, with bright painted hallways and classrooms and new tinted energy-efficient windows.

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Galax City Council and Galax School Board members celebrated the long-awaited completion of the GHS renovation last Thursday during a dedication ceremony.

A new plaque in the school recognizes school board and city council members who approved and saw through the construction process.

City and school system officials and former Galax Superintendent Sam Cook started discussing the need for high school renovations 10 years ago and the plans were drawn up five years ago. With more than two years of construction and the school board discussing the building program monthly, the renovation seemed like it would never be finished.

But Thursday, National Honor Society students proudly provided city council, school board, faculty and staff, students, parents and visitors, a grand tour of the renovations. To commemorate the occasion, senior Roberto Hernandez planted a Cleveland pear tree in front of GHS in memory of Carolyn Peddy, the mother of GHS graduates Andrew and Jaime Peddy.

The recently completed $8 million project features a new bus loop and extra parking space out back; a new entrance that has been relocated to the center of the building for security; professional lighting and sound system in the auditorium; a weight room with new Nautilus equipment; locker rooms with new flooring, new lockers and an industrial washer and dryer; restrooms with new flooring and automatic plumbing; newly-painted classrooms with air conditioning and tinted energy-efficient windows; and relocated guidance and main offices with hardwood floors.

The makeover is far from just cosmetic. It includes a new heating system, transferring from coal to oil. A courtyard, located where the entrance used to be, allows art students to gain inspiration outdoors. A new security system allows administrators to see what's going on around the school at all times, and a new PA system provides a clear sound.

The school's gym floor will receive a facelift this summer with a lighter, modern finish and maroon lettering.

“We are pleased with the end product,” said Ray Kohl, chair of the school board. “It was the school board and superintendent that had the vision to get it started 10 years ago. We have a good governing board with people that listen to each other.”

The school was built in the 1950s and hadn't had much of an update since. During the renovation, students and teachers moved from classroom to classroom — upstairs, downstairs and even outside to mobile units — as workers sealed off different parts of GHS for work.

“When there was no tile on the floors, students couldn't go down some hallways and the rooms were different colors, teachers and students did a great job and just kept learning,” said Kohl. “They continued to excel.”

Kohl said the renovation is part of a bright future, with the creation of a new learning environment.

City council has been a strong supporter of education, he noted.

“We took a leap of faith. We hope you see the pride that has gone into the project,” Galax Mayor C.M. Mitchell told visitors at the dedication ceremony. “It's important for the community to look at the facility that has been working to make Galax a better place to live.”

Mitchell said the GHS renovation is an economic development project. The school system is one of the first places a potential employer visits to gain an understanding of the education students obtain, as well as how “the facilities are kept up and modernized,” he said.

“It's been over two years since council took our first tour of the school,” he added. “What a difference three years makes.”

Mitchell said the renovation couldn't have happened without the support of the community, school board and council.

Former Galax Superintendent Sam Cook, who retired in December and relocated to his hometown in Franklin County, also visited GHS on Thursday to express his gratitude to the community.

“I'm fortunate and blessed to have been involved in the school system, and council believed funding for education was not an expense, but an investment,” said Cook, who had a 13-year tenure as superintendent.

Though the construction was set for completion in October 2008, it took a little longer than expected. Cook told students and teachers that “it was a short-term pain for a long-term gain.

“This was a community project, and a great thing for the community,” said Cook.

GHS Renovation Plaque

Members of the approving school board in 2005 were: Ray Kohl, chair; Susie Garner, vice chair; Jim Adams Jr.; Theresa Lazo; and Andrew Messner. The dedicating board is Kohl; Lazo, vice chair; Adams; Donna Garland; and Stewart Merdian. Galax superintendent was Sam Cook.

Members of the approving council in 2005 were Mayor C.M. Mitchell; Willie Greene, vice mayor; Derrick Davis; John Garner; Robert Kirby; Helen Kyle; and Robert Lazo. City Manager was Dan Campbell. The dedicating council is Mitchell; Greene; Davis; Garner; Lazo; Sharon Plichta; and Bill Webb. City Manager is Keith Holland.

The plaque on display at GHS also recognizes architects OWPR Inc. and general contractor Vannoy Construction.