When Monticello High School students came into the media center Feb. 15 to find some new furniture, study booths and a long, high-topped table in addition to the traditional tables and yellow plastic chairs, they didn’t know how to respond.
"They were a little taken aback, and weren’t sure what to do," said Bruce Maxey of BLDD, the architectural firm that is leading the collaborative process toward a possible re-visioning of the space.
"So they all quietly went and sat at the tables they have been sitting at for the last how many years. We told them, ‘you guys can go try out the furniture,’ and boom they were up and running. It was fun," he added.
It didn’t take long for word to get around, with estimates that the modern furniture on temporary loan has helped double the number of students using the library. The process began with the formation of an ad hoc committee of students, staff and administrators in January; which led to some back-of-the-napkin drawings, resulting in a test drive for a reboot of the Monticello High School media center.
Built basically as a big room for books in 1971, technological and educational changes have started to leave the 5,400-square-foot room at the end of the hall behind the times, especially with an industry shift away from solo study and towards collaborative learning.
School board members in December approved a contract that included the "Prototype" project for a possible modernization of the media center. Tours of other area libraries and media centers were part of the process, which led to ideas that were incorporated in a mock-up of how the space could be better used in a 21st-century learning environment.
Student committee members appreciated being on an equal footing with their principals and teachers.
"I like how smooth it was, there wasn’t a lot of arguing. Everyone got to share their ideas. There was a lot of creativity, honestly," said sophomore Jacob Boss.
"It was nice that they put the project in our hands, and we got to have input," added sophomore Mary Grace Ross, another of the five students on the original prototype committee.
Kaleena Davis also enjoyed working with teachers, commenting, "we don’t get to do that too often, so it was fun being able to work with the faculty."
That was the goal, said High School Principal Adam Clapp.
"What we wanted to do is for this to be student driven, because ultimately those are the people who are going to be using the space."
The 15-member group started meeting Jan. 11, and just over a month later had the mockup of the revised media center ready to be tested by students and staff. Some ideas that came out of their discussions included moving the Sage Cafe into the library, providing different styles of study spaces, installing charging stations, and improving wireless technology, lighting and acoustics of the relatively high-ceilinged room.
Besides different styles of seating that includes higher-sitting chairs, straddle seats and lounge chairs with foot rests, technological improvements could help students work together more. Heart Technology was brought in to set up Chromecasts that allow Chromebook laptop users to project to screens located throughout the room. It works similar to the smart TVs located in many living rooms.
Use of the media center has not exactly gotten to the crickets-chirping style of emptiness, but the novelty and newness introduced in the mockup has definitely made students take notice.
And even to start staking out their territory.
"It’s gotten to be very, get here first to get your seat type of situation," added Clapp.
The most popular pieces, according to Ross, Boss and Davis, have been the hightop table that includes charging stations and outlets. Restaurant-style booths also fill quickly.
Davis is also partial to a low-lying round chair with foot rest.
"I could sit in that chair all day and read books. I could do it," she said.
Boss likes the booth because it’s comfortable yet private, while Ross is partial to the high table, saying "it’s a nice change, instead of having to learn over and work."
The enclosed classroom that is part of the media center could be a distance learning lab, and will soon be tested out as a way to bring in speakers without the need to have them physically show up at MHS.
"A distance learning classroom really resonated with our foreign language department, as well as our business classes," said Clapp. "You can’t all the time have people come speak to your class, but there are people in the business world who can spare 30 minutes to do a conference call."
After input is received, the prototyping will enter an adjusted, second phase.
A rehab of the media center would be part of the project funded by the March 20 referendum if it is approved. Even if voted down, some work will likely be done and paid for by other means that could include use school sales tax proceeds.