Schools of the future going up now in south Mississippi

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - "It is so precious. I absolutely love it," said Dr. Sue Matheson, as she walked down the hall.

Matheson sounded like an excited new homeowner. The Pass Christian School Superintendent couldn't wait to show off her freshly finished campus, especially the day care center.

"This is to put next to them for their baby dolls to sleep with them when they take a nap," she said, pointing to a tiny cot.

The preschool is part of the Pass Christian Center for Excellence on West Second Street.  Pass Christian children, from six-week-old babies to eighth graders, can now get their education in one place.

"I will be very surprised if there's another campus anywhere in the United States that is as unique as this one is," said Matheson.

The $32 million complex also houses Pass Middle School on one side, Pass Elementary School on the other side, and the Boys and Girls Club on the north end.

Grand columns grace the entrance and along the walkways.   In the middle of the campus is an open courtyard, an amphitheater for concerts and plays, and bright, green artificial turf.

This concept came about after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Middle School and district leaders attended an architectural seminar in Washington to design a school for the future.

"We spent a good bit of time just thinking and dreaming about what we wanted this campus to look like," said Matheson. "I certainly never ever imagined that this campus would be here like it is today. It's just absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful."

The classrooms standout as well, featuring modern furniture and the latest high-tech tools.

"In most of the classrooms, we have Promethean Boards, Smart Boards if you will, that will connect us to the outside world.  Every room has a television, a flat-screen TV on the wall, and certainly we have lots of computer labs," said Matheson.

"If a kid has a chemical burn, can get a full shower right there," Cliff Newell explained as he pulled the shower rope in the Science lab.

Fancy gadgets and energy-efficient technology can also be found at the new West Harrison High School on County Farm Road.

"You can do your experiment. When it starts producing like a smoke or fumes, you close it down, and open up your exhaust," he said, demonstrating an enclosed experiment station.

The school has installed light bulbs that use less electricity.  And don't bother searching for a light switch.  Sensors automatically turn on the lights by detecting motion even the sound of your voice.

"And as soon as you walk out, about three or four minutes later, the lights turn off for you," Newell said.

And during an emergency, the school also serves a life-saving function. The building can transform into a storm shelter, protecting up to 3,000 evacuees behind tons of concrete and steel.

Shutters that are built into the walls can be pulled out to close off the lobby and academic wings.  The reinforced doors, windows, and walls are built to withstand up to 200 mile-per-hour winds.

"It's 12 inches thick.  Double sided.  Just amazing piece of engineering to keep us safe," said Newell.

And the campus is self-sustaining.  If the power goes out, the generator kicks in to run the electricity. There's also a water well and sewage treatment facility on site.

"We're the only design like this in the U.S. that has this type of structure that we have, where we're really safe," said Newell. "We're really, really excited about being able to help the community with this school."

And that's the philosophy behind the schools of the future, whether it's in Harrison County or Pass Christian.  They're built to not only educate children, but also for people in the community to enjoy.

"Every time I walk in, I get that new school smell or building smell," said Pass Elementary Librarian Karen Corley.  "It's wonderful.  I love it.  I can't wait. I can't wait for all the kids to come in.  It's going to be wonderful. I get teary when I think about it.  So it's going to be wonderful."

You'll get a chance to check out both schools this weekend.  The Pass Christian campus and West Harrison High will have their ribbon cutting and tour on Sunday, July 26th.

Instead of building a new school, one district has turned an old high school into an impressive "School of the Future."  See the amazing transformation Thursday night at 10:00 on WLOX.

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