The old Desert Hills Middle School in Kennewick, which opened in 1977, had several different buildings, which separated many students who were in the same grade.
The hallways within were crowded.
“It was always a big struggle trying not to get hit or fall or something,” said Kevin Gilliam, who enters eighth grade this year.
Kevin and his parents, James and Maria, were among hundreds of people who gathered Friday morning to see the unveiling of the new middle school at 1701 S. Clodfelter Road.
Everything’s in one place now.
“It’s only two floors, but it’s a lot of space,” Maria Gilliam said.
James Gilliam was also impressed.
“You can tell the enthusiasm of everyone, so it’s going to be a pretty positive year,” he said.
The 110,400-square-foot, $40.7 million project was designed by architectural firm Design West and completed by Fowler General Construction.
The new school has 37 classrooms, enough for at least 900 students. It also has two gyms, a fitness lab, cafeteria, orchestra and band rooms, and five computer labs.
The new Desert Hills is also the first school in the district to have its own track.
“It’s just unbelievable,” said Steve Jones, the school’s principal. “It’s the best in the Northwest.”
I’m probably going to get to places a lot faster.
Ryan Laing, eighth grader at Desert Hills
Jones first started as a teacher at Desert Hills in 1980. He’s thrilled for the amount of open space and how everything in the building connects together.
“It’s just easier for the kids to find their way around,” he said.
Ryan Laing, an incoming eighth grader, said he immediately noticed how spacious the hallways were compared to the old school.
“I’m probably going to get to places a lot faster,” he said.
“To me, it almost has a college feel,” said Ryan’s mother, Karin Laing.
She also loves the new security features, which include electronic locks on all doors in case of a lockdown emergency, which the school district has installed in all of its newest buildings.
The old middle school didn’t have these features.
“Anyone could walk up to the school and walk into the building any time,” she said. “The open campus just doesn’t make sense anymore.”
Crews continue to work on Clodfelter Road and other areas near Harper Park, which also has few sidewalks. The district will provide buses for students who may usually walk or bike from these areas for the majority of the upcoming school year.
“We would rather people didn’t walk to Desert Hills (for now),” said Dave Bond, the school district’s superintendent.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony featured a performance from the Desert Hills jazz band and introductions from school board members, police and fire officials, state Rep. Brad Klippert, Mayor Steve Young and several city officials. Boy Scout Troop No. 139 raised the flag before crowds recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
Bond thanked voters and the school board for their continued support of the school district’s building program.
Shaun Suss, a seventh- and eighth-grade algebra teacher at Desert Hills, started teaching in 1998. He was also a student at the old school.
“There are still two or three teachers here who taught me,” Suss said.
Suss will miss the old building, but looks forward to continuing his teaching career in the new facility
“It’s kind of cool that a new part of my life is opening up,” Suss said.
Eighth-grader Bronson Dauenhauer, the student body president at Desert Hills, said he and many other students plan to create many new traditions and keep others alive as the first class of Hawks in the new building.
“We’re going to remember this year for the rest of our lives,” he said.