Hinsdale Central classrooms get refresh

Students return to '21st-century' learning spaces as part of Future Ready Facilities work

Hinsdale Central classrooms got a makeover during the summer, complete with upgrades officials hope will enhance students' educational experience in the school year just underway.

Assistant Principal Ryan Maita last week showed The Hinsdalean several of the 86 renovated classrooms across the campus. He said the improvements were comprehensive.

"We did flooring, ceiling, lighting, walls, new tech, projectors, projector screens, 21st-century student desks and new teacher work stations as well," he said.

Stepping into a second-floor special education classroom, perhaps the most striking items initially are the trapezoid-shaped desks trapezoid-shaped desks.

Maita said the desks can easily be arranged in a circle for working in pods of up to eight students.

"They're easy to put together and move around," Maita said. "They're very flexible to it's easy for students to collaborate."

Each desk has an accompanying chair - unattached and with wheels for mobility. A large basket-like tray is located under the seat for backpacks, as laptops have replaced bulky textbooks and allow students to tote all of their supplies.

"No one uses lockers anymore," Maita remarked, noting lockers have become an optional feature at other high schools. "They just carry their stuff. So it's nice that now they have space to actually put it under the desk."

The light gray carpeting and new lighting combine to create a more airy, well-lit environment similar to modern office spaces. Instead of the classic big wooden teacher desks, instructors have movable stand-up work stations and separate cabinets with countertops that can be positioned next to the work station as an extended counter.

"It's no more 'sit and get' from the teacher," Maita said. "(Teachers) now are standing and moving around, so it allows for that flexibility."

The Hinsdale High School District 86 Board approved $1.05 million for the furnishings earlier this year, a piece of the $140 million Future Ready Facilities improvement project voters passed in 2019. Among the other outlays for this phase of the work, awarded to lowest bidding contractors last fall, were $2.8 million in electrical upgrades, $519,000 for flooring and $306,475 for acoustical ceiling installation.

Maita said the work proceeded smoothly overall, with a few snags - like when some of the old whiteboards were removed.

"We found like 27 rooms that needed to be abated (from asbestos) that we didn't have on the abatement plan," he said.

Maita acknowledged that some of the school's faculty were skeptical as to how the new student desks would function compared to the traditional models. When the first set of classrooms were redone a couple of years ago, he gave a demonstration showing their versatility and value.

"It went a long way to easing some of those fears," he said.

Business teacher Leah Giarritano, whose room was one of the first ones renovated, appreciates the improvements.

"I love it - it's beautiful," she said.

Some rooms like those for marketing and art are outfitted with rectangular tables to accommodate larger-scale assignments like poster and banner design. The art and science rooms kept their tile flooring instead of the getting new carpet because of potential for spills. Science rooms feature a juxtaposition of classic-looking lab stations mixed with the contemporary alterations.

"In the science rooms, it's mainly the lighting, the ceiling, the paint," Maita said while walking through one of the lab rooms.

"It made it brighter," interjected science department Chair Julie May, during a meeting with colleagues. "The lighting makes a huge difference. It just feels more like daylight in here."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean