Any building might benefit from having a lot of windows, but for Albion Middle School, a multitude of windows offer an especially scenic view of the Wasatch Range.
The school was remodeled with funds from a $250 million Canyons School District bond.
"I love the natural lighting," said ninth-grader Katie Ann Powell. "You get to see how beautiful it is outside, how beautiful the mountains are."
The students and staffers vacated the building last year while the remodeling project took place. According to assistant principal Roberto Jimenez, everything was torn down except for the outside walls. It was nearly an entirely new structure that the students returned to this fall.
"I was happy because that's something that's been on the mind for many years," Jimenez said.
The renovation included refurbished gymnasium and cafeteria, a new entryway, parking lot and landscaping. The project finished in a little more than a year's time.
A major problem with the old building was the arrangement of the classrooms. There would be four classrooms that shared one space, usually with one or two doors to enter through. Each room was not completely partitioned off from the other three, so noise was an issue.
"I could hear all the other teachers around me while I was trying to talk over them," Jimenez said. "That's how it was designed 28 years ago, and it was not conducive to a learning environment."
Like Midvale Elementary, which benefited from a new building in a completely new location, the old Albion also lacked air conditioning.
"It was miserable for the kids," Jimenez said.
The air conditioning is now a favorite feature of the students.
"You'd be all sweaty and tired, and when you're really warm, it kind of makes you drowsy," said ninth-grader Bridger El-bakri. "Now you can focus on what you're doing and really learn."
The incorporation of technology into the design allows teacher to use computers and projectors to aid lessons.
"It enhances our learning so much," said Powell. "It's more interesting than a blackboard."
From his office, Jimenez has a view of the commons area, which he said is something that catches everyone's attention.
"Kids and adults are always commenting about how relaxing it is to walk into this area," he said.
The unique thing about this open space is it allows students to move about with no "traffic jam," as Powell put it. Before, narrow hallways created difficulty with just navigating around. The room also has windows high in the wall that look out onto the majestic mountains.
"You get to see out more instead of being trapped inside like a little box," El-bakri said.
Last year, students and teachers used the unoccupied building of the old Cottonwood Heights Elementary. One drawback was the lack of lockers. Jimenez said he's pleased that the lockers at Albion now can accommodate more than before.
An influx of natural light helps uplift the atmosphere of the school.
"It just changes the feeling of the building," Jimenez said. "Several of the classrooms have sky lights that are so good that you can actually turn out the lights and still have good enough light in the rooms to function."
In the old school, the main office wasn't right by the front door as it is now.
"Before you kind of had to guess, where is the office?" Jimenez said. "We were always hiding before."
For Jimenez, the changes made him reflect on his experiences as a teacher in Chile in the 1980s. He said the condition of the school there at that time was inadequate.
"I had to hold onto the blackboard with one hand while writing because it was hanging from a nail with a wire," he said.
Although the old Albion building wasn't in as poor a condition as what Jimenez taught in 30 years ago, he said he still wondered why it lacked something like air conditioning.
"It's such a basic need," he said.
On the first day back to school, teachers gathered in the commons room to greet and even high-five students as they entered the new building.
"It was neat to see the expressions on their faces," Jimenez said. "Everybody was just happy and excited about the new facility."
After a couple of weeks of school, Jimenez observed that the remodeled school translates into a better environment for everyone.
"The mood of the kids, they look happier and they look more relaxed," Jimenez said. "People have a tendency to behave better when they have a nicer place."
Jimenez said he's delighted that the district has put the effort forward to improve the physical makeup of the school and hopes other districts will follow suit. Similar construction and renovation projects are under way for three more schools in the district.
"Finally somebody is thinking about this," he said. "I hope this vision will transfer and spread throughout the state of Utah for all kids to enjoy."
New entryway and parking lot
Refurbished gymnasium and cafeteria
Installation of air conditioning
Upgraded media center
Spacious classrooms and a large commons area