MISSOULA – Students at Willard Alternative High School came back from winter break with brand new digs to break in.
The old Willard building was built for elementary level kids almost 100 years ago.
Now, the students at Willard have a new school designed for their age group and for the education standards of this millennium.
“Really excited about being in the new facility. It’s been a long time, over a year that we have been under construction,” said Principal Kevin Ritchlin. “But it’s just really nice to finally move into a new facility and see the excitement on students’ faces, staffs’ faces and the community has really embraced, or the people that have come in, anyway, have really embraced what they have seen. It’s been nice.”
And the new building offers some amenities that the old one did not.
“In the new facility we’ve got several things that we didn’t have in the old Willard,” Ritchlin said. “So we have a gym space now that has basketball hoops and volleyball. We have a teaching stair which is really neat, which creates an opportunity for lectures and those kind of things. We have a science lab, we can use a full-functioning culinary lab, a couple of maker spaces for students to make products and objects. And it’s just really really nice to have things in place that we didn’t have in the older facility.”
But it’s not the school that makes the students and staff, but instead the students and staff who make the school, according to Ritchlin.
“That soul of Willard is the same as it was in the older facility. It’s just we have a new place to educate our students and I think that’s the really neat part about Willard. It’s a small learning environment for students who maybe need that, but it’s a really caring environment,” Ritchlin said. “It’s a relationship-based school and the school is going to help foster some of those things, but also create that notion that we do care about every kid in Missoula County Public Schools, and you have this wonderful new school to attend. I think it sends a really positive message to our students.”
Ritchlin says that one of the main concepts to the school was trying to let in as much natural light as possible to stay away from florescent lighting.
They also attempted to make as many open creative spaces as possible to allow students to learn and grow.