New Rock Creek Faculty opens its doorways to college students | Training
After more than five years of planning, design and construction, the new Rock Creek School building opened its doors on Wednesday for the first day of class.
Headmistress Katie Buckley smiled proudly as she walked down the wide hallways of the school, large enough to accommodate multiple wheelchairs, and which were softly lit with non-fluorescent lights.
“That opens up a world of possibilities,” she says.
Rock Creek offers special education for Frederick County students between the ages of 3 and 21 with significant mental and physical disabilities. The previous building in Frederick was approximately 55,000 square feet.
The new facility, which costs nearly $ 50 million and shares a campus with Walkersville Middle School, represents a massive improvement for the school’s approximately 70 students. At 79,000 square feet, the building is state-of-the-art Engineering, Buckley said, and every element was designed with the Rock Creek students in mind.
There is the sensory room with twinkling lights and vibrating massage chairs that pulsate to the beat of the music, as well as the closed inner courtyard with wheelchair-accessible play equipment. The hallways are lined with foam trays to provide a quiet hideaway for overexcited students, and each room is furnished with plenty of soft, flexible seating.
Rock Creek School students Shaun Testerman, left, and Harris Bukasa Nsenda, both 12th graders, enjoy their first experiences in the new playground playground designed for the needs of the school. The large inner courtyard is completely surrounded by the school building and accessible from all areas of the building.
A teaching kitchen enables older students to cook safely, and an “exercise room” has a climbing wall and barrier-free indoor play equipment.
Buckley hopes to keep up dedication to the Walkersville community that will serve as their school’s new home. She plans to invite students from Walkersville Middle to Rock Creek and vice versa.
As teachers prepared to welcome the students a few days before the school year began, volunteers from the nearby Walkersville High School football team unloaded boxes from carts. They spent the day putting more than 5,000 new books on the shelf.
“Our goal is to be as inclusive as possible,” said Buckley.
Rock Creek, originally called Harmony Grove School, opened its doors in 1972. But many of the students who attended school then would not be considered candidates for Rock Creek today, Buckley said. Instead, they would be in standard public schools or possibly a specialized program like Learning for Life.
“Special education was very different in 1972 than it is today,” said Buckley. “Over time, our student body has changed as special education law and the way of thinking have changed.”
So the new Rock Creek building brings the facility in line with the needs of the current population, Buckley said. While the old school had a sensory room and an engine room, the rooms were not designed for these purposes, but were created “gradually over time” when donations or grants were received.
Rock Creek School ninth grader Taylor Keser shares a moment with principal Katie Buckley on the first day of school on Wednesday.
The standard classrooms have also been improved. Each student has a desk with space for a wheelchair of any height, and each bathroom is now equipped with elevators that are attached to the ceiling to help staff assist students with reduced mobility.
The classrooms also have large closets for storing students’ medical equipment, which often crowded the hallways of the old Rock Creek building, Buckley said.
One of the most exciting improvements, Buckley said, was in the therapy pool. Unlike the pool in the previous building, the new building has a wheelchair ramp and three hammock lifts to transport students from private changing areas into the water.
In addition to academic and practical lessons, the school focuses on the physical and motor development of the students. The pool is one example: although many Rock Creek students use wheelchairs, Buckley said, school staff are working to make sure they spend as much time out of the pool as possible. The water is calming and allows many students to use muscles that they otherwise cannot, she added.
Three students floated happily in the water on Wednesday, each accompanied by an employee. Dozens of foam pads hung from the ceiling to minimize echoes that could make noise-sensitive students difficult.
On the front facade of the old building, “Rock Creek School” was written out in large black lettering. Those 15 letters are now proudly displayed in the new lobby – the only physical pieces of the old school left.
On Wednesday the new hallways echoed with excited voices. Two boys grinned as they mounted the swing in the yard, and a handful of children kicked and clapped with the beat of drums in a music classroom.
“Do you see why kids never want to go?” Asked Buckley, laughing.
“It’s pretty awesome,” she said.