After nearly three years of planning, design and construction, the curtain will go up Friday on Bettendorf High School’s $16.2 million renovation project.

A day-long open house begins at 9 a.m. with performances by students from Grant Wood Elementary School. Groups from Bettendorf schools will perform throughout the day in the new, 840-seat performing arts center, the centerpiece of the project. Tours of the facility also will be available throughout the day.

The project also includes a new high-security entrance, with a new main office, attendance office, activities office and security office nearby. The school’s guidance and school nurse offices also were renovated, as was the media center.

Principal Jimmy Casas said he is looking for one reaction from people visiting the facility for the first time.

“Wow.”

“If we can get that, we’ll know we did something right,” he said.

The project appears to have hit that mark with the school’s performing arts students. State-of-the-art technology. More than double the seating capacity of the old auditorium. Orchestra pit. A large projection screen facing 18th Street. Bigger stage. Bigger shop area.

“It has a lot bigger green room, too, right?” asked senior Kristoffer Poole during an interview with a group of performing arts students.

“It has a lot bigger everything,” replied senior Sam Ruchotzke.

The district also built a $2.1 million administration center adjacent to the high school.

More natural light shines into the school with the addition of several windows, which were lacking in the original design of the school building when it was built in 1973.

Project manager Mike Ernster from Russell Construction, a 1984 graduate of the school and father of current sophomore Matthew Ernster, said he has enjoyed going to work at his old high school and seeing some of the same teachers who were there when he was a student.

“At first, it was kind of strange to ... walk down these halls again,” he said.

While only a few finishing touches are remaining, the project hasn’t been without its issues. Ernster said the underground work at the performing arts center was delayed when some utility lines weren’t where they were expected to be. Also, the soil was not capable of supporting the pillars for the performing arts center, so contractors were forced to use geopiers, a process in which holes are drilled in the ground and rock is poured in and pounded down until it strengthens the surrounding soil.

Although the past two mild winters brought little snow, at least until recently, the ground going unfrozen created a foot-deep layer of muck around the construction site, Ernster said.

“It probably would have been better if it would have froze, but at least it wasn’t 4 feet of snow,” Ernster said.

John Campbell, the district’s director of operations, said the project was the largest he has taken on in his career, which included building projects when he worked at Augustana College in Rock Island. He said the hardest part was seamlessly tying the new performing arts center to the existing high school building, including the utilities, electrical wiring and heating and air conditioning systems.

“It’s been a really complex project,” Campbell said.

During a walk-through led by Casas a few weeks before the grand opening, the principal rattled off the details of every aspect of the project as workers completed tasks such as laying tile in the commons area and installing an elevator that makes the orchestra pit handicapped-accessible.

The new furniture in the main office sat empty, theater seats remained unsat in, and a large sheet of plastic separated the commons area from the new main entrance. All that changes this week.

Casas said his involvement in the project has given him a new appreciation of architects, contractors and the complexity of Campbell’s job of maintaining an entire school building.

“I’m just amazed at how well they work together as a team,” Casas said.

The performing arts center will not only provide students in those programs with a first-rate facility, it also will be a place where all students can celebrate achievements in academics, sports and other areas, Casas said.

Campbell said last week he was not feeling stressed by the process of putting the final touches on the project.

“We’re kind of winding down now,” he said. “I’m feeling pretty good right now.”

The process of getting the project off of the drawing board also wasn’t easy.

Unwilling to go over budget and having to borrow money, the Bettendorf Community School Board voted in July 2011 to reject all bids received for the project after they came in $3.5 million over budget.

When the bids came in over budget a second time, the board voted to go ahead with the high school renovations, the addition of four classrooms and a commons area at Hoover Elementary School and the new district administration center. Board members cut a proposed upgrade of some of the high school athletic facilities from the project.

The project funding came from funds from the physical plant and equipment levy, proceeds from the statewide 1 cent sales tax and $2 million from the district’s general fund.

Casas said he has been around other school improvement projects where people complained about what was left out of the project rather than being happy about what was included, but that hasn’t been the case with the high school renovation.

“This should be a celebration,” he said.

Superintendent Theron Schutte said it is exciting to see all of the planning and work come to fruition at the high school, but the district is not yet done building.

Schutte said plans are under way for an expansion of the cafeteria, main office and front entrance at Bettendorf Middle School. District officials also are studying the feasibility of building a new running track at the middle school.

The district likely will go out for bids on the $2 million to $3 million project this spring, Schutte said.

School board members say they also are pleased with how the project has turned out.

Board member Betsy Justis said the project “has been a great addition to the physical assets of our district and our community.”

A community-based facilities advisory committee made the recommendation a few years ago, she said, and the result “created safe, high-impact facilities for our students, staff and community to enjoy.”

Board member Jeannine Crockett said she was very proud of the project and the performing arts center in particular.

“I hope the entire community will take advantage of the many opportunities that this outstanding facility offers for everyone in the future,” she said.

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