Principal Jay Novacek knew he had a pretty special building when he overheard future students wonder aloud whether they were walking through a school or the headquarters of Google.
That’s exactly the kind of comment that Novacek, the principal of the new Olathe West High School, recently heard when he invited incoming freshmen to get a sneak peak of the school.
Step into the 375,000 square foot building and you too may forget you are in a high school. Your eye is quickly drawn up where you will notice an abundance of glass and windows inside the three-story building.
When Olathe West opens its doors next August at 2200 W. Santa Fe, it will become the district’s fifth high school and quite possibly its most visually unique one.
“I think students were overwhelmed at how awesome the entire place is,” Novacek said. “Many of them couldn’t believe they have the opportunity to go to school here.”
Mission Trail Middle School eighth grader Ava Laffoon was one of the future students who got to tour the school recently.
“It was overwhelming but in a good way,” Laffoon said. “It was very large but it was amazing. It had lots of windows and lots of light and it was very open.”
Fellow Mission Trail eighth grader Matt Bice said the school definitely had a different feel.
“It kind of felt more like a college than a high school,” Bice said. “It didn’t feel like any other high school.”
Voters passed a bond issue in 2013 that made way for the new high school, which cost $82 million to build. It will open its doors to 850 freshmen, sophomores and juniors. The school will add a senior class the following year.
One thing that will set Olathe West apart from other high schools in the district is the establishment of four communities in different parts of the building. A community is made up of students from each grade along with an assistant principal, a counselor and an administrative assistant.
Each community will also have its own satellite media support room. This is basically a smaller version of the school’s main library which is located on the main floor, is entirely open and flows into the commons.
Open space is a common theme throughout the school. Windows allow you to see into classrooms and down to the floors beneath you. There are garage doors off of some of the classrooms that open to the outside. They are designed for the school’s 21st Century Programs which are called Public Safety and Green Tech.
One public safety classroom is big enough for an ambulance and a police car to pull into it, giving students a chance to see inside emergency vehicles.
And as students enter the public safety area of the high school, they will pass by something special displayed outside the room. School district and city officials obtained one of the last pieces of steel from the wreckage of the World Trade Center after writing a letter to the Port Authority of New York.
School district officials said Olathe West was designed to be multi-functional. Much of the furniture can be easily moved.
And that’s not the only thing that can move. The school’s auditorium has a balcony with retractable seats so that the space can open up and be used by school groups for meetings and practices.
In the main gymnasium, there is an indoor track that overlooks the gym floor and a wall that can be opened up to the second of the school’s three gyms.
Two oversized staircases in the school dubbed the learning stairs allow another place for lectures, speakers or for students to eat lunch. There’s even an outdoor, rooftop classroom in the school.
Classes will not be held in the same classroom every day and students will consult a digital arrival and departure board on the wall to see where their teachers will be holding class that day. The idea is to give teachers and students flexibility in learning, all things that Novacek said will help take education to the next level.
“The district did a good job at looking at what high school is going to look like 30 or 40 years down the road,” Novacek said. “Times are changing and the way students learn is changing.”
2200 W. Santa Fe
▪ Mascot: Owls
▪ Colors: Blue and silver
▪ Enrollment: Designed for about 2,200 students
▪ Design features: The state’s only Energy Star-rated high school; eight maker spaces with flexible furniture, allowing classrooms to handle a variety of hands-on student projects.
▪ Special programs: Green Tech Academy, which focuses on energy conservation and sustainability; and Pubic Safety Academy, for students who are interested in police, fire, and emergency medical responders.