The new Independence Junior/Senior High School opened its doors to the public for the first time on Sunday — and school started today. More than 2,000 people turned out for a grand opening and ribbon-cutting and witnessed the beginning of a new era for the school district.
Superintendent Jean Peterson says it was a great feeling to welcome everyone to the new school. Years of work have gone into making this new school a reality. After four failed bond votes, supporters made it their mission to get area residents on their side.
Assistant wrestling coach and P.E. teacher Keith Donley served on one of the boards that worked to educate the public and get the bond passed. The bond passed on its fifth try in September 2011 – with 69-percent of voters in favor of using tax dollars to pay for a new school. They broke ground on the new site in May 2012.
The new $27.5-million school sits on 92 acres right off 20th Avenue and Highway 20 and takes up about 170,000 square feet. There’s a huge parking lot out front with over 400 parking spaces.
After walking past the impressive Mustang statue outside that was built in memory of three students who passed away, you’re led into a school that has skylights covering its main hallways. The building features a 17,500 square foot gymnasium with a press box and suites, a 700-seat auditorium with an orchestra pit and private green rooms, a large wrestling room and training room, four locker rooms that can serve as a FEMA safe room, and two Wenger recording studios.
There’s also labs for Woods, Metals and Auto, and there are Ag Ed fields just east of the high school, allowing the Ag Education Program to return to the school for the first time in 50 years. Rachel Weelock is starting her senior year at Independence. She always pictured her final year of high school to be in the old school, but says it’s exciting to be part of the first class who will graduate in the new building.
Superintendent Peterson says it’s not only an exciting time for the students and school staff, but it’s exciting for the communities of Independence, Brandon and Rowley, too.
By Janelle Tucker, KMCH, Manchester