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Watch now: LPS officials tout the high school of the future on tour of Lincoln Northwest

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Construction workers in hard hats and neon vests trickled through Lincoln Northwest High School like a colony of ants, wiring lights, moving furniture, testing fire alarms. 

Last-minute work on Lincoln's newest high school.

Lincoln Northwest High School, 7.29

Construction crews are working hard to prepare Lincoln Northwest High School for the first day of classes Aug. 15.

And Friday marked another day closer to that date officials most certainly have circled on their calendar: Aug. 15, the first day of school.

"We knew the schedule would be tight to build a 240,000-square-foot building in two years," said Scott Wieskamp, director of operations at Lincoln Public Schools, during a tour of Northwest with reporters and district officials Friday.

While work obviously remains, officials are clear on this point: Students will be walking the halls in about three weeks. What they'll find is a building defined by collaborative, open-concept spaces and guided by technology.

The high school of the future.

"It's been 20 years since we've opened a new high school," Lincoln Board of Education President Don Mayhew said. "Just in that time, we've learned a lot that's informed the process for us."

Northwest, located near Northwest 48th and West Holdrege streets, has the obvious makings of any other high school. But in many respects, it feels more like the student union on a college campus.

The building is essentially separated into two sections, the three-story instructional wing to the north and the activities spaces — two gyms, an auditorium and swimming pool — to the south.

Outside is an athletic complex with a football stadium, track and baseball field that will be shared by other city schools, as well as practice fields for Northwest teams.

Lincoln Northwest High School, 7.29

Union Bank Stadium, the football and track complex at Lincoln Northwest that will be shared by all LPS schools, will be ready to host the first football game in Lincoln Northwest history on Friday, head coach Brian Lauck said.

The main entrance opens onto administrative offices, the athletic department and classrooms on the first floor. There is another entrance for students on the south side of the building, which spectators will use for athletic events.

The second floor of the classroom wing is considered the "instructional hub" of the building. Graduated wooden steps called "learning stairs" provide a space for students to study, eat lunch or attend a lecture. "Falcon Hub" is stenciled on the wall.

"We want kids to find their space," Wieskamp said.

The "learning stairs" are connected to other shared spaces on the second floor: the library, cafeteria, science and robotic labs, family and consumer science spaces.

Innovation labs and art and science space are on the third floor. 

There are collaborative classrooms with garage door-like entries that allow for "team teaching" in secure hallways. An outdoor greenspace will allow teachers and students to grow their own gardens. 

Further away from the center of the instructional wing you'll find more typical classroom space. Special-education classrooms are on the first floor.

The cafeteria and commons area, with large east-facing windows, connects to the activities wing of the building, which features a competition gym, auxiliary gym, swimming pool, auditorium, music rooms and a black-box theater.

Technology also features prominently. Nearly 100 bulletin board-like screens, for example, will be installed around the building to display schedules, menus and other announcements.

The $61 million building — made possible by the $290 million bond issue voters approved in 2020 — was built to hold 1,000 students, with expansion possible in the future to boost capacity to 2,000.

Only about 470 students are expected to attend Northwest in its first year. There will initially be no senior class.

Standing Bear High School, identical in design to Northwest, will open next fall at 70th Street and Saltillo Road. Hausmann Construction is building both high schools.

Another new school, Robinson Elementary in northeast Lincoln, also opens this year.

Lincoln Northwest High School, 7.29

Work continues in the cafeteria space at Lincoln Northwest High School.

There will be about 30 teachers at Northwest this fall who will be able to get into their classrooms for the first time Aug. 5. But Friday, they were allowed a sneak peek of their new digs.

"I was really excited to see the looks on their faces," said Principal Cedric Cooper. "It's just a feeling I'll never forget."

While nearly all of the instructional wing is ready to go, there is still a lot that remains unfinished. The 150 or so workers on the site daily are evidence of that.

For one, safety checks still need to be completed so Northwest can earn its occupancy permit by the start of school.

"Those are the kinds of things I'll think about at night," Wieskamp said.

The auditorium and swimming pool will not be ready by Aug. 15, but both gyms will likely be finished close to that date. The floor on the competition gym, for example, still needs to be sanded, stained, painted and finished.

Lincoln Northwest High School, 7.29

Work continues on the new competition gym at Lincoln Northwest.

Artificial turf is just now going down on the football field, which will hold its first game between the Falcons and Ralston on Aug. 26. Wieskamp expects other facilities needed for fall sports — such as the softball fields and tennis courts — to be completed by a similar timeline. 

There are contingencies in place for sports teams to practice at alternate sites — including Speedway Sports Complex — if needed, Wieskamp said. Practices for fall sports can begin Aug. 8.

There's also work to be done to get to the building, with last-minute touches remaining on the drives and streets in the area, including making traffic signals operational.

Landscaping work around the building won't start for a couple of months.

Work on the building is expected to continue into the first quarter at least, but officials consider it a win that they will open the building in time despite all the hurdles — the pandemic, workforce shortages and supply chain issues — encountered along the way.

"I'm amazed at this team," new Superintendent Paul Gausman said. "I just think it's going to be a fun place for our students to learn."

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Contact the writer at zhammack@journalstar.com or 402-473-7225. On Twitter @HammackLJS

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K-12 education reporter

Zach Hammack, a 2018 UNL graduate, has always called Lincoln home. He previously worked as a copy editor at the Journal Star and was a reporting intern in 2017. Now, he covers students, teachers and schools as the newspaper’s K-12 reporter.

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