LINWOOD — A pair of workers carefully put a coat of finish on the hardwood floor in the Mainland Regional High School gymnasium recently, as others worked away in the new Board of Education office.
The $40 million renovation project was to have been done by the end of the year, but unforeseen issues — including the threat of Hurricane Irene — combined to slow down the project.
Now, the current work, the last major tasks of the renovation, is not expected to be completed until early next year. But the impact on the school’s student body of what has been done can already be seen throughout the school.
The library, for instance, used to be underutilized and falling apart. Books would tumble down on students from outdated shelving, while other parts of the library were used as storage instead of for learning. Now, it is one of the most popular rooms in the school. On a weekday morning, a line of students extended from a new cafe in the middle of the library, while dozens of other students sat around discussing everything from national headlines to, yes, schoolwork.
In the area at the back of the library once used for storage, a class was learning about performing arts on a state-of-the-art projector.
“We’ve always looked for ways to encourage kids to come into the library,” said longtime librarian Gordan Mann. “But since the renovation, we’ve got kids looking to come here every chance they can get, especially during lunch when it can get pretty packed.”
Superintendent Thomas Baruffi said the entire project was a mix of renovating the old and new construction.
The renovation presented “its own set of headaches,” said Baruffi, but the few aspects of the project that were “new” construction, such as the new Board of Education office, were much more seamless.
“But we are getting close to the end, that’s for sure.”
The project also was overshadowed by the tragedy that befell the school in August when four students were killed in an accident on the Garden State Parkway.
“We certainly went through a period there when everybody’s focus was on the tragedy that we dealt with. Obviously, it did take some focus off of (the renovation), and I think it was appropriate that it took some of the focus off,” Baruffi said. “Have we returned to a state of normalcy yet? I don’t know. But we have started trying to move forward again.”
The next phase of the project to be completed — or completed enough to be used — will be the varsity gym.
“That’s big for us, because it will be done in time for basketball season,” Baruffi said. “But we will still have to get by with temporary bleachers in there until the permanent ones can be installed over the summer.”
And even though specifics on other aspects of the overall project have yet to be finalized — such as details pertaining to the installation of a new perimeter fence, new windows, and the repaving of the parking lot — Baruffi said the project is still projected to finish under budget. Benefiting from the slumping economy, the school district has already allocated $500,000 that will be used for debt service.
“We won’t know exactly how much we’re under until everything is done,” he said.
But from functionality of upgrades such as seven new state-of-the-art classrooms — two science labs and five regular classrooms — to the aesthetically pleasing new entranceways and upgraded corridors, Mainland’s student body seems pleased with the results, regardless of the price tag.
“It’s awesome,” senior Tia Mandic, 17, said of the renovation while sitting in the new library. “It has definitely made a big difference.”
The project has had such a positive impact on the student body, that it has even become a source of envy.
“I wish it had been like this the whole time,” senior Andrew Rowe, 17, said. “This place is going to be banging, and, of course, it’s happening just as we’re leaving.”
Contact Robert Spahr: