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Alton Central School shows off its facelift



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A NATIONAL JUNIOR HONOR SOCIETY MEMBER paints a truck on a kindergartenerís cheek at Alton Central School. Weston Sager. (click for larger version)
August 31, 2010
ALTON — It's amazing what a little fresh paint can do.

But ultra-modern energy-saving technology doesn't hurt either.

Alton Central School showed off its recent additions to the community last Thursday afternoon. Although the summer projects did not include many significant structural improvements to the existing building, a number of subtle changes transformed the school into one of the most technologically advanced and energy efficient structures in the area.

Principal Bonnie Jean Kuras led tours of the new improvements to the school for interested visitors throughout the day.

The first stop on the tour is the school's exterior. After stepping outside, Kuras points to a brick wall. She explains that many of the most important improvements could be found here.

But it's hard to tell exactly what she is referring to. Only upon closer inspection does one see a slight seam between brickwork sections.

"These were windows," she says. But it's hard to tell because the new construction so closely matches the mottled brick that was there before.

But they didn't do away with windows altogether, Kuras assures. Instead, they moved them up the wall near the eaves of the building. This, she says, is to provide more appropriate levels of natural light.

If there's too little natural light, Kuras explains, students have trouble seeing without the aid of artificial illumination. Too much natural light, though, creates glare that reflects off the white eraser boards, which can give students headaches.

But the new window configuration strikes the perfect balance, she says.

She points again to the wall, this time at a plastic honeycomb piece jammed in the mortar. These are "weeps," or as Kuras calls them, "weepies."

"I like to add 'ie' to the end of everything because of my first name," she jokes.

These little plastic pieces help to prevent damaging moisture from building up behind the brick wall.

Kuras points this time to the window itself, which she says are far better insulated than the windows there before — 13-times better insulated to be exact.

As Chip Krause of CMK Architects would later explain, the difference between the old windows and the new windows is like "having a one to two-foot hole in your house versus no hole."

Kuras begins to walk back inside, making sure to welcome back with a smile every student she encounters.

She walks into the computer lab to display the 26 new Dell Thin Client computers purchased with the $147,000 technology grant the school recently received. But something looks wrong: there appears to be only monitors, no computers.

Kuras then picks up a small black box in one hand. She explains that this is the "computer" that hooks up to the monitors. In reality, it's a relay that links each monitor to a server located a ways down the hallway.

The server houses all the data and computer processors. Not only is this a more efficient use of space, she says, it also helps to keep the computer room cool because 26 computers aren't emitting heat throughout the day.

Kuras walks down the hallway and enters a closet where the server is located. The room is surprisingly cool despite the summer heat. It always stays somewhere between 68 and 70 degrees to keep the server from overheating, she explains.

"We try to keep it as constant as possible," she says over the low hum of the newly installed climate control system.

She exits the server closet and takes a turn into the middle school bathrooms. These are the crowning achievement of the recent additions, Kuras says.

Every sink, toilet and urinal is outfitted with motion-activated low-flow technology. This technology, which has now become commonplace in airports and other high-tech buildings, has made its way to the school. And for good reason: not only is it cleaner to use, this technology also saves significant amounts of water.

For example, a urinal that used 1.5 gallons per flush before, now only uses 0.125 gallons. And the regular toilets use only 1.6 gallons per flush as opposed to 3.5 gallons before.

But the sink itself is perhaps the most impressive addition, a single curving piece of a synthetic rock-like substance attached to the wall. It can accommodate three students washing their hands at once; they simply place their hands underneath the top portion of the sink to activate a stream of warm water. Afterwards, they go over to the high-powered motion-activated hand dryer, which literally blows the water off their wet hands.

Kuras then directs the attention to the ceiling where a new fire alarm system is installed with a strobe light for the hearing impaired. In case of an emergency, the bright blinking light will signal a deaf child to leave the building even if he or she can't hear the alarm or the commotion of evacuating students.

She exits the bathroom and enters the hallway. On the way to the next tour stop, she makes sure to say 'hi' to the kindergarteners there for early orientation. She then takes a right turn into a gymnasium that glistens with a newly-waxed floor.

But the shiny wooden planks are not the main focus. Again, Kuras points to the ceiling.

Not only are the ceilings painted, she says, but the lights in this room are automatic. She walks forward and sure enough each light overhead illuminates as though someone were flipping light switches from somewhere out of sight.

These lights, she explains, will turn on and off automatically based not only on motion, but also on the amount of light in the room.

She says these fixtures may sound expensive, but they will pay for themselves in short order with the amount of energy they save.

Although the gym will remain a gym for the foreseeable future, Kuras hopes this area will become a multi-purpose "cafetorium" if the planned gymnasium addition is constructed.

The tour meanders through the school's hallways until coming to the art room, which also has new motion-sensor lights and aesthetic improvements to the ceiling. She then leaves the room to show off some admittedly more modest projects funded by the annual maintenance budget: a new paint job in a hallway and new rounded plastic "safety hooks" for jackets and backpacks.

She exits the quiet empty classrooms and hallways and walks out the door to the back of the school that is teeming with activity. Kindergarteners and parents are playing on the jungle gym while new cook Sam Cowan grills tens of hot dogs and hamburgers at once. Teenage girls from the National Junior Honor Society sit at a nearby table, painting the faces of excited four- and five-year-olds as Kuras points out even more improvements made to the school over the summer.

After five years of planning and construction and roughly $268,000 from the Prospect Mountain High School bond, the listed projects are "99.99 percent" finished — just in time for the new school year.

Correction

In last week's edition of The Baysider, it was reported in an article about the Alton Buildings and Grounds Committee that the school improvements included a new sprinkler system, fresh air ventilation system and key-card swipe locks. These were not part of the summer construction, but are part of future renovation plans.

Weston Sager can be reached at 569-3126 or wsager@salmonpress.com

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