Sept. 1, 2018 — “This is a special place,” Jeff Greene said. “The students talk about how different Mapleton is from bigger schools. Every school has their issues, negatives and positives, and so do we. But one of the things students always say is, ‘You guys are so close. You know each other so well.’ The kids get to know us, and we get to know them at a deeper level. You know these kids through and through, like they know you.”
Greene, the physical education teacher for the Mapleton School District, stood in his newly remodeled classroom at Mapleton High School. Freshly purchased chairs were still resting atop the student’s desks, the walls bare. He was busy setting up his classroom for the school year that will begin next week.
The entire school was remodeled over this summer, with new hallways, locker rooms, a student common area and a courtyard, among a whole host of other improvements.
“This place looks incredible,” Greene said. “It’s like we’re a kid in a candy store over here. This is huge for education and learning. It’s going to change the students as individuals for the better. We’re excited for this year.”
Built in 1948, Mapleton High School had never gone through a major remodel in its 70-year history. Paint was peeling off the walls and there were holes in the floors.
“There was a real ‘poor’ feeling to it,” said algebra teacher Elisa Gray. “It created an attitude of, ‘We don’t get good things.’ A lot of the rest of the world has a really bad attitude about people in poverty, that ‘they’re lazy and they don’t deserve nice things.’ And you start acting that attitude out. The students end up not caring because it’s not going to be nice. It’s never going to be nice.”
Mapleton has seen its fair share of poverty since the high school was built decades ago. Once prosperous mills have been shut down, and jobs have moved out of town. A once bustling high school now only holds an enrollment of 55 students.
“You could see the kids start to leave,” Greene said. “It’s dwindled down quite a bit. There was always that rumor of this place closing its doors. We’ve heard that rumor every year.”
Beyond economic difficulties, the school and community have been faced with other blows.
“We’ve had a lot of tragedy here,” Greene said. “Losing students, then losing family members of people who are affiliated with the students. A parent or a sister. We’ve gone through that a lot with our students in the past seven years.”
But Greene said that the community banded together with the tragedies, allowing a family atmosphere to grow.
“I think that’s one of the cool things about a small school, is that everyone comes together and helps those families out,” he said. “That’s what makes it neat about a small school. The tragedies are a part of who we are today, and how we’ve grown from that and come together.”
It’s that communal sentiment that allowed the school district to grow over the past few years, as a local bond measure, matching state funds and a seismic grant allowed the district to pump in $11 million worth of renovations in the Mapleton School District’s dilapidated buildings.
The elementary school’s remodel was completed last year, while the high school is just finishing up its final touches on its own remodel this month. The total cost of the high school portion was $4.8 million.
“We needed to do something different to get kids back in school,” Greene said. “We passed that bond, and for them to see the results happen, it’s going to give a positive energy to this place. When you get community support with the school, along with the parents, it trickles all the way down. They’re going to be excited to come to this school. They have a smile on their face when they come in here. They know that they’re appreciated, and people care about them.
“The community cares about these kids.”
Gray’s classroom, which was painted in a dark blue and seemed dark and cramped, is now airy and light, with new windows bringing sunlight to the crisp walls and new appliances that she uses to teach her Farm to Table class.
“It’s so peaceful now,” she said. “It breathes. This says, ‘You deserve nice things. You are worth this. We value you. You have potential.’”
Greene said, “It’s just like a new school. This is my new classroom. It doesn’t feel like I’m in my old school. It’s just a breath of fresh air. It’s a new start.”
Mapleton School District Superintendent Jodi O’Mara was eager to show off the school’s new start as she gave a tour of the facility.
“I am so excited to show it off to everyone,” she said as she entered the building. “Each entry has a new walk-in mat, permanent. There are new safety vestibules at the entryway. It allows us to leave the outside door unlocked, so people can have access to just the lobby area and then they can get buzzed in. We also have the ability to lock both doors and buzz people in for a little bit of added safety.”
She pointed to the new water bottle-filling station that greets students on the north entrance, that sits right next to the new food service area.
“We’ve added that for middle school and high school lunch,” O’Mara said. “They used to have to go over the hill to the elementary to eat lunch, and now they’re going to be able to stay here.”
Middle schoolers will eat in the lower hall, the high schoolers in the newly created commons area.
“It keeps them separate at lunch,” O’Mara said. “They appreciate that.”
She was particularly excited about the commons area, one of the biggest changes in the school, saying it was the school’s showpiece.
“We created this for our students,” she said. “We haven’t finished it yet, as we’re waiting for student input. There will be tables and chairs in here next week, but we want them to help get the furniture they want.”
The focal point of the commons area is a brand-new bench area made of the aged, distressed wood from the old bleachers in the high school gym. The design is reminiscent of a Frank Lloyd Wright design.
Worked into the wood are USB charging ports, so students can charge their phones and laptops. Built into the wall next to the bench is a small kitchen area with a microwave and a place for a coffee cart that can be rolled in each morning.
Directly outside the commons area, in a small alcove in the hallway, rests the senior bench, which Mapleton seniors have been signing their names on for years.
A doorway leading out of the commons area finds a newly created courtyard which acts as another gathering place during lunch.
The centerpiece of the courtyard is a memorial fountain, which was the brainchild of 2018 graduate Alyssa West, who shepherded the idea for her senior project.
“It will be in memory of four students that we’ve lost,” O’Mara said. “Each side will have a plaque for each student that we have lost in the last few years.”
The names on the fountain will include: Weston Bowman, Abby Boydston, Brandon Kimble and Haley Wells.
“The fountain, the work, the bowl, the plumbing, the pouring of the concrete and the design was all donated from workers that worked on site here,” O’Mara said. “It’s phenomenal to have such an amazing community here in Mapleton, but to have that community extend to the contractors, architects and plumbers that have been involved with the remodel — it just goes to show you the amazing amount of people that we have working with us.”
Just down the hall from the commons area rests the new computer lab and library, which holds new fiber data lines and a warm, carpeted area.
“We’re moving more toward a media center, but we’re also keeping books,” O’Mara said. “We realize that’s important as well, to have a book in your hand is just as important as having one on your Kindle.”
Across from the library is the entrance to the new boys’ locker rooms, which include new tile flooring, three private showers, new lockers, benches and a team meeting area with white boards.
“And this is the exit door that comes out to the coach’s office,” she said. “It keeps him out of the locker room. His office used to be right in there, and it was awkward.”
A small hallway leads to the newly remodeled gym, which has been fitted to be seismically sound.
“We added some sheer walls there, enclosed some areas there,” she said. “There’s nothing on the walls right now. We’re waiting to ask the students what they think is important to have back up. We’re going to add a logo up there that says, ‘Home of the Sailors.’”
During the Christmas break, the gym floor will be refinished back to its original wood.
Behind the stage in the gym rests the new weight room, which will have new foam pad flooring, specifically designed for weight rooms. Also located near the stage is a shower area for referees or special needs students who may need a private area to shower.
“And then the girls’ locker room is in here,” O’Mara said, going into a room just past the weight room. “New floors, new showers, new lockers. This locker room happens to have a drop ceiling. It’s amazing. The kids really, really like it.”
She led the tour down to the front office, gliding down newly laid matte tile floors — luxury vinyl tile that will not need to be waxed.
There’s still work to be done for the remodel project. Outside, grass needs to be seeded and the parking lot needs to be redone, but those will happen later this month.
“We still have some punch list items that still need to be completed, things that either need to be fixed or completed within the building,” O’Mara said. “We’re hoping within the next month that all of the construction related items will be complete.”
By the end of 2018, the home of the sailors should be ready to set sail for a new chapter in the history of the school and the community as a whole.
“I am so proud of our amazing community for supporting our schools and our students,” O’Mara said. “Our students, staff and community deserve this amazing facility.”