Brooke Middle ready to open its doors

LOOKING AHEAD — Jennifer Sisinni, principal of Wellsburg Middle School, discusses the upcoming school year with Richard Whitehead who, with Jeffrey Blundon, will serve as assistant principals of the new school.

WELLSBURG — The principal and staff want Brooke Middle School to be a school everyone can be proud of and a place where all pupils will be comfortable.

Jennifer Sisinni, head principal, took time from preparing for the new school year to comment on the response from the segment of the community most affected by the school’s opening — about 880 pupils who will attend.

In addition to fourth-graders from the county’s primary schools, many of them will come from Wellsburg and Follansbee middle schools, which have been closed due to declining enrollment and revenue.

For many years there was a strong athletic rivalry between Follansbee and Wellsburg high schools. It was something staff and students at Brooke High School had to overcome when it opened in 1969, and it continued, to a lesser extent, when the two former high schools became middle schools.

But Sisinni said it’s not something she’s heard pupils speak of. She conceded the old rivalry may have been softened by the fact the Follansbee Blue Waves and Orange Knights have known for some time they all would become Brooke Bruins when they reached high school.

And she noted the two middle schools’ football players came together two years ago as one Junior Bruins team.

Sisinni said a more common concern, expressed by pupils and parents, is adjusting to a new, larger building. She noted it’s not a new issue, as many fourth-graders from the elementary schools have faced, and adapted to, attending a larger school.

Sisinni said to ease the transition for the incoming fifth-graders, all of their classes will be in one wing of the building and they will have their own lunch period separate from the other grades.

While the fifth-graders will have different teachers for different subjects, they will have the same classmates throughout the day, she added.

“The fifth-graders will still travel as a pack, for lack of a better word,” Sisinni said.

School officials have been giving pupils of all grades an opportunity to become familiar with the school through a series of public tours earlier this year and a student orientation from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday.

Ed Wohnhas, a physical education and health teacher transferring to the school from Wellsburg Middle School, said during one of the tours, “Some of the kids said, ‘Mr. Wohnhas, it’s so big.’ I told them they’ll be fine.”

Meredith Hood, a fifth-grade teacher at the school, said unlike in previous years, the school will be new to everyone — pupils in all grades and the staff.

“Everybody’s in the same boat,” she said.

Teachers at the school have had a head start, entering their classrooms over the summer to decorate and stock them with materials.

Construction of the 110,000-square-foot, two story building was completed earlier this year. School officials chose to open it at the start of the 2018-19 school year, believing it will allow a smoother transition.

The school was built near the west entrance to Brooke High School on the grassy area once used for parking for football games and other public events. An additional entrance has been established west of the building for staff and parents dropping off pupils. It leads to a parking area to the north of the building and a loop that takes parents back to the same entrance. Pupils riding school buses will get out at the front of the building.

The project was funded with $18 million by the state School Building Authority and $12 million from a $15 million bond issue approved by a majority of Brooke County voters in 2014. The remainder of funds generated by the 15-year bond issue went to replacing the heating ventilation and air conditioning system at nearby Brooke High School.

The state School Building Authority also awarded a $100,000 grant to the school district for expenses incurred in planning the school, including the hiring of bond counsel.

The school was designed by McKinley Architecture and Engineering of Wheeling and constructed by Grae-Con Construction of Steubenville, with more than 30 subcontractors involved, under the supervision of Massaro Construction Management Services of Pittsburgh and Rob Robinson, facilities director.

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