EAST MOLINE — One year and almost $10 million later, the new Student Life Center at United Township High School is complete.
The additions and renovations to the East Moline school are sprawling and sweeping, affecting everything from entering the building to reading books in the library, eating lunch and visiting the school nurse.
Those who have seen changes are in agreement: the school looks nice.
“It’s hard to come into this space and not feel good,” said Matt Wright, UTHS principal, with a smile.
The most noticeable addition is the brand new multi-purpose commons, an airy student lounge and eating area on the school’s southern side, along Avenue of the Cities.
The commons, which connects to the cafeteria, dramatically opens up the eating space and improves lunchtime density. The old cafeteria area could only accommodate 600 students and was always “jam-packed,” Wright said. The new commons can accommodate hundreds more, and for now, has seating for at least 100 additional students.
The commons also has a bookstore, for ticket sales and fundraisers, and a student cafe, where students will be able to vend drinks and snacks.
The centerpiece of the addition is the giant “U T H S” steel metal mural towering over the space. The letters are backlit by LEDs and, when illuminated, can be seen by passing traffic on Avenue of the Cities.
“We were trying to get a lantern effect so we can keep the lighting on overnight,” explained Curt Pratt, director of facilities. “It’s one thing to see the changes here on the inside, another to see it from the outside.”
Pratt called the school’s facelift a “community boon.” He said he’s heard from people, that are not even connected to the school, who are impressed with the changes.
Those changes start at the school entrance, which features a new school sign and a new secure entry. Visitors will park in the front, along Avenue of the Cities, and enter through the double doors in the new front lobby. A receptionist will greet them and ask for identification before allowing the visitor into the office or the school building.
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The school resource officer, a veteran East Moline Police officer, has a new office off the front lobby in case of an emergency.
The east side of the building, which has recently been used for visitor parking, will be for buses only, Pratt said.
Many of the changes to the school will be invisible to visitors and students. Significant floorspace has gone to new offices for counselors, administrators, teachers, and other faculty needs. It’s something of a “one-stop-shop,” centralizing administrative offices that were previously far-flung.
The new facilities meet modern standards or otherwise exceed them.
The new nursing office, for example, has multiple recovery couches and complete hygiene and bathroom amenities for a variety of uses.
“It’s probably the nicest one in the Quad-Cities,” Pratt said about the new nursing station. “It’s a big goal of ours to meet the needs of all kids.”
UTHS has also built a new library and media center, complete with tall ceilings and ample classroom space. A large new seminar room near an entrance has already been used for professional development training, Wright said.
The old library, now redubbed “the gallery,” will be used as a study hall space and collaborative classroom area while the school figures out a long-term use.
Funding for the project comes from a 1-cent sales tax approved in 2016 for Rock Island County schools. The school’s address is 1275 Avenue of the Cities.
UTHS returns to school next week, welcoming back the full staff on Monday. Freshmen will attend their first day on Tuesday, and all students will begin classes on Wednesday.