STEVENSVILLE - Ask any teacher, administrator or student at the brand new Stevensville Middle School what they think of their new digs, and the answer is always the same.
"It's just so cool," said librarian Lisbeth Lubbers. "The old building had paint peeling off the walls everywhere, it was bad. It was disgusting. I was just so embarrassed to have my colleagues come visit me at work. This is just a huge difference. We have more space for everything, and it's all so nice. The kids are excited. I always see them looking up and pointing at everything."
Sept. 6 was the first day of class, and it was also the first time any middle-school student in Stevensville had come to a different school building since 1936.
Part of a $9.7 million upgrade, which also includes a soon-to-be-completed music center, the 55,000-square-foot building houses grades 4-8 and is a major change from the previous school, which was demolished last year.
The new facility features a life science center, a huge art room with a skylight, two libraries, connected computer labs, smart boards and video screens in every classroom.
"I love it," said fourth-grade teacher Andrea Hart. "I spent last year teaching in a church. The church was great, but all we had were just our books. Now, we have so much more to work with. And the kids have their own lockers, which they love."
Lubbers said that she thinks Stevensville is now one of the more desirable places to work in the Bitterroot Valley, if the school district wants to attract top-quality teachers.
"Before, if you were just moving to the Bitterroot, I would have chosen Hamilton," she said. "They have nice facilities. You can just do so much more. Corvallis is pretty modern, and Victor just upgraded. But now Stevensville is in that same class. Especially once they get the music center completed and all the landscaping done, it's just good."
Don't forget the lockers. It's still early in the year, but already many locker doors are festooned with pictures of puppies, artwork, mirrors and other personal items. It's obvious they are one of the most popular upgrades. As they poured out into the hallways between classes Tuesday, many students rushed to their lockers and chatted with friends while they dug through their belongings.
"I love having my own locker," said fifth-grader Allie Emery. "We didn't have anywhere to keep stuff last year. It's so much better than the old school."
Each hallway is color-coded as to grade, and the halls are separated so there isn't too much interaction between younger and older students.
"We just have so much more space now," Lubbers said, pointing to a corner of the new library to indicate just how small her old space was. "The kids love it, and the best part is now all the teachers are in one place. I get to see some of my fellow teachers that I never used to see. We used to be so spread out. There are all sorts of little things that we're getting used to, but it's been great."
The new school features improvements in safety, energy efficiency, technology and noise reduction and feels like a place that kids can proudly claim as their second home.
"I think so," Lubbers said when asked if she thinks the new school will improve the quality of education. "The kids want to be here because it's so much nicer, and the teachers are happy with it. We're all just excited for the year."
Reach reporter David Erickson at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.