“Demolish all existing AHS buildings.” These are the first words of the Project Summary posted on the Wake County Public School System website in October 2016. Apex High School students and staff have waited a long time for these words. While money went to other high schools in the county for renovations and upgrades, Apex High waited. This June, it’s their turn.
Today’s Apex High School dates back to the mid-1970s. In 1989, the school gained an auxiliary gym, a larger cafeteria, and a two-story building for more classroom space. In 1998, a three-story building was constructed for classrooms, the media center was renovated, and office space for administrators was added.
The resulting campus is, in some areas, a confusing open-air maze of damp corridors, dimly lit staircases, and windowless classrooms. Plus, over the years, dozens of mobile classrooms (pods and trailers) were planted around the school, stealing parking spaces from students and staff.
Even in its run-down state, however, the school instills pride in its students. Their fondness for their school is evident in the way they joke about the water in the band room, the smell in the auditorium, and the insects sharing the hallways with them. As junior Bobby Gunshefski puts it, “Although the school is old, and there are lots of things that we make fun of, those same things have bonded the students together.”
Senior Alyssa Chiccotella will graduate just days before construction crews move in. She says she will miss the memories of Apex High as she has known it, in particular its rich history, warmth, and feeling of community. Her brother, Matthew, who is a freshman, agrees that he’ll miss the sense that “so many others walked these halls before me.”
So what about the new school?
Principal Diann Kearney eagerly shares her excitement about the new campus with everyone who asks. “The key features include the courtyard, a gym that will hold our entire student body, an auditorium that will hold 850 and has all the bells and whistles for first-class productions, and a second-story media center that will be a beacon of learning for our entire campus.”
Working with the same amount of land, the architects and contractors had nowhere to go but up. The new school will sit on roughly the same footprint, but the building will be four stories tall and preserve the courtyard that has made Apex High School unique for decades. The building’s lower level will have easy access to Cougar Stadium and house locker rooms, restrooms, and concessions for athletic events. On the main level, separate visitor entrances for the gymnasiums and the auditorium, on opposite sides of the building, reflect thoughtful consideration for those attending after-school events. The second floor is where you’ll find Career and Technical Education classrooms and the media center, an architectural focal point dominating the front corner of the building with its wall of windows and overhanging the front entrance and administrative suite. English, math, and social studies classes will be on the third floor, and all of the science classes and labs will be on the top floor.
With little rhyme or reason to the location of same-subject classrooms in the current school, the new school will be a welcome improvement. Organizing classrooms by subject will allow students and teachers to interact daily in ways that are nearly impossible now. Every floor will also have spaces specifically designed for presentations and the collaboration of small groups. When Kearney spoke with students about the plans, “they were excited to learn of the collaborative spaces (several on each floor) and the modern design. It will be a very attractive campus!”
Other aspects of the project that have people talking are the traffic flow and parking lots. The bus and carpool loops will be at either end of the school and decrease congestion on Laura Duncan Road. Student drivers will come back to nearly one hundred additional parking spaces and a parking deck with a table-top level that is completely flat. This will make the marching band happy, too, as they’ll have a dedicated space in which to practice after school.
“Out with a Bang” That’s the slogan the seniors are wearing on their Class of 2017 t-shirts this year. It fits, considering they will have just stepped out the door when the demolition begins. And although they are moving on to the next step in their lives, their classmates can expect to start the 2017-2018 school year at Green Level High School. It will be business as usual for the Cougars for two years before returning to their new campus for the 2019-2020 school year.
Fortunately for the Apex High School family, Dr. Kearney is an avid proponent of integrating parts of the old school into the new. She says current plans are to take along “the ‘Big A’ from the center of the basketball court, the ‘Class of 1983 seal’ from the gym lobby floor, and the arm rests from the auditorium. Our hope is to mount these three in a creative and appropriate manner in the gym lobby, main lobby, and arts lobby of the new campus.” By preserving these iconic artifacts, along with numerous trophies, awards, and banners from the athletics and arts departments, Kearney hopes the new campus will “feel like home.”
“My goal is that our campus will ‘scream Apex’ when you enter—colors, name, and logo visible at every entrance. We have discussed incorporating a cougar and our school colors (black, gold, and green) into the interior finishes. [Identifying one] cougar [from] literally dozens being used…would allow for greater branding and more uniformity around our name and logo. Picking the interior paint, finishes, and furniture will likely begin next year and it will be one of the most enjoyable parts of this adventure.”
Although Matthew Chiccotella isn’t anxious to “learn a new campus for the third time,” his mother, Dayna, is excited about “having it all under one roof!” Freshman Foster Hager whose brother, Will, graduates this June, said she, too, is looking forward to returning to a school that is contained in one building and that has more windows. And though she will miss the “space-themed and other artsy bathrooms, and the doodles that people put on the walls,” she’s excited about the “brand-newness” of the new school.
As Apex High School’s demolition day approaches, mixed emotions are to be expected. For some, nostalgia is in certain physical aspects of the buildings and its surrounding campus. For others, it’s in traditions like the Cougar Crazies or the Senior Parade and Breakfast on the first day of school. For anyone who has walked the halls of Apex High School over the years, this is an exciting time. Sure, tearing down today’s school might be bittersweet, but the new “Home of the Cougars” will be worth the wait.