Forest City School District Debuts $11.5 Million Renovation
FOREST CITY — When district administrators asked Forest City Regional business teacher Michael Zack what he wanted in his new classroom, he had two requests.
He wanted power to the desks so students could charge their district-issued laptops, and he wanted round tables so kids, especially his business and entrepreneurship students, face each other — not him.
Forest City Regional School District celebrated the completion of an $11.5 million, two-year renovation Sunday. The overhaul touched nearly every corner of the region’s smallest district where the administrative offices and elementary and high schools all fit under one roof.
“Most of what we’re doing is team stuff,” Zack said standing in the classroom he just got back in August. “So sitting in these groups is far better. It’s not me standing up there giving a lecture. It’s kids working and researching.”
Forest City Regional has about 800 students. More than half come from low-income households.
The renovations give the district an edge in a world where educators seek better ways to teach science, technology, engineering and math skills, or STEM, to better equip students for the real world. It’s a world where screens and software are replacing the traditional shop class.
While half of an industrial arts classroom still holds hulking power tools and workbenches, the other half is walled off with a bank of computers used for drafting projects.
Adjacent to the workshop, a former chorus room is now a STEM lab complete with a 3D printer. The district built a pair of rooms for music and chorus more central to both the elementary and high schools.
While STEM classrooms teach hard skills, Zack said he also wants students to gain so-called “soft skills” such as collaboration and entrepreneurial spirit.
Zack’s classroom has a door connecting it to the school’s general store.
On Sunday, seniors Finn Yount and Josh Doyle, both 18, manned the store where they sold school spirit clothing, supplies and snacks, including Jack Link’s beef jerky and Mentos breath mints — all items picked based on classmate surveys.
“Everyone wants chocolate,” Yount said, as the two explained that the store just got school board approval to add it to their growing menu of items.
To make way for renovations, workers felled 78 trees. To replace them, the school will replant in the spring and is looking to alumni for funding.
Donors who pay $300 to cover planting costs for one tree will receive a commemorative plaque to be displayed in the high school lobby.
“We have alumni here who are third generation, very proud of their roots here in Forest City,” Superintendent Jessica Aquilina, Ed.D., said.
To pay for the sweeping renovations, officials issued a $10 million bond to be repaid over 20 years. The board allocated $1.5 million from the general fund.
During construction, classes persisted in spite of the work that temporarily upset daily work flow, including moving some administrative offices to the gym floor.
A punch list remains to be completed, Aquilina said, but disruption at the hands of construction ends.
“It has been a tumultuous two-year process,” she said. “Honest to goodness. Everyone worked together. Nobody complained.”
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