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STUDENTS GET LESSON IN ADAPTABILITY

The first day of school is confusing enough without having roughly one-third of the facility under construction.

Such is the case at Highland High School, in the throes of a massive seismic retrofitting and remodeling project. When approximately 2,200 students start class Tuesday, they will have no cafeteria or auditorium. Numerous classrooms have been displaced by the project."It's going to be very difficult. We'll have seven portable buildings so we'll have classes in there," Principal Charles J. Shackett said.

Band and orchestra classes will be conducted in one balcony of the school gymnasium. Choir class will be conducted in the balcony on the opposite side.

"It's challenging. We have a lot of things to deal with in the public school system but to start the year with a third of your building gone is kind of scary."

Absent a formal cafeteria, food will be prepared off-site and served in the hallway under the school's dance studio. "Where they will go once they get their food in hand, I'm not so sure."

The auditorium should be completed by Thanksgiving, and district officials have been assured the construction should be completed by July. The work was set back about three months as the school district re-evaluated bids for construction work for the second phase of the project, which came in about $5 million over budget. The project was rebid, saving the district about $1.2 million. The district estimates the project will cost $14.7 million overall.

Part of the headache will be parking, with portions of some lots housing portable classrooms, others filled with construction activity. "We're encouraging them not to drive but it's kind of hard to tell a 16- or 17-year-old who just got a license and a new car from mom and dad not to drive to school," Shackett said.

"Really, we should be OK except for 3 1/2 weeks in October and March when we need space for the driver's training course. Then we'll consider `seniors only' parking or relocating the driving range," Shackett said.

Although students and staff will be inconvenienced throughout the year, the end result will be a safer, more modern school building, Shackett said.