Old wing at Hamilton ready for students

Like a big reveal on a home design show, Hamilton Middle School students admired a locker-lined and purple-tiled hallway.

"That's tight!" one student said. Others gasped in awe.

For a year the north wing has been locked as workers repaired structural problems that school leaders said resulted from a shoddy renovation.

A few eighth-graders recently sneaked a peek at the finished product.

The opening of more than a dozen classrooms means all Hamilton students will be under one roof, starting Jan. 5, at 1407 S. Broadway.

Sixth-graders have been shuttled this semester to the vacant Longfellow Elementary School building at 2116 S. Main.

Starting in January, students will use lockers for the first time this year. Now, backpacks line the backs of classrooms at both school sites.

"We'll have to re-teach skills — when it's appropriate to go to lockers," principal Amy Hungria said. "We will ease them into it."

Teachers packed up their classrooms before leaving for the holiday break. Class will resume a day later for Hamilton students to allow teachers to set up their rooms.

The 1918 portion of the Hamilton building was closed one year ago when cracks were found in the floor and walls that attach it to the newer part of the structure.

So far, the district has approved $1.32 million on the construction project. This week they voted to allow an additional $20,000 to clean up the messy work of re-doing walls and floors, said Martin Libhart, chief operations officer.

The district is in the process of trying to recoup money paid for the repairs from the local architectural firm that designed the Hamilton renovation and addition as part of the 2000 bond issue, Libhart said.

Similar structural repairs are under way at Allison Traditional Magnet Middle School, 221 S. Seneca. Allison had the same original architect as Hamilton in 1920 and the same architect for the renovation that was part of the 2000 bond issue.

Architects are still designing the repairs to Allison, and district leaders said there's no timeline when students and teachers will regain access to closed-off classroom space.

Administrators said they hoped the Hamilton repairs would have been done by the beginning of this school year, but more extensive damage was discovered.

Resources, including computers and books, have been split between the Hamilton and Longfellow school sites, Hungria said.

"We've maintained some normalcy," she said. "But we adjusted some things."

The library books have been on rolling shelves, teachers shuffle classrooms and one class is held in the foyer.

But Hungria hopes to have all three grades together on their respective floors soon.

"This is my Christmas present," she said.