CONWAY — Walk into the new Scholars Academy building at Coastal Carolina University, and it’s hard not to say “ah.”
On the outside, it’s traditional and brick, with four white columns in front, but the inside opens to an airy expanse bathed in gray and beige, with green and blue accents, ultramodern light fixtures and a striking ceiling that is surprisingly high and covered with wood-veneer panels.
“It doesn’t look like you expect it to from outside,” Norman McQueen, Scholars Academy program administrator said Friday as workers finished. “It’s definitely a 21st century building on the inside.”
The new building, which was dedicated this week, gives a permanent home to the Scholars Academy, Horry County Schools’ accelerated program for gifted learners, which was established through a partnership with CCU in 2003 and launched with 22 students on the second floor of Baxley Hall.
This year’s students number 154, and while headquarters has remained in Baxley Hall, students and staff have spread to five buildings across the CCU campus, McQueen said.
Students, who enter the program as freshmen, take honors and Advanced Placement courses, as well as college-level courses alongside CCU students, and they can graduate with a high school diploma and as much as two years of college course credits.
“Coastal has been a wonderful host and made room for us, but Coastal is splitting at the seams, too,” said McQueen, who said the program’s move will allow the university to remodel the vacated space in Baxley Hall for use by its admissions office.
“I just love the look of the building – it’s airy and spacious. It’s just amazing to see how far we’ve come,” said English teacher Vencie Maxey, who was the only full-time teacher when the program began. “We had one full-time classroom in the corner (of Baxley Hall), then Coastal gave us another one for part of the time, and we’ve gradually taken over the floor.”
Construction began in February on the wireless “green” building, which has about 20,500 square feet, is designed for about 200 students and is located next door to Baxley Hall on the east end of Chanticleer Drive. The school district constructed the building and has a long-term lease with CCU for the land.
The project cost about $7.5 million – funded by the penny sales tax dedicated to education in Horry County – and students will move in when they return from winter break Jan. 6.
The building’s central open area immediately catches the eye from the entrance, and the space can be set up for 250 people, McQueen said. It is adjacent to a multipurpose room, which features a pull-down screen and door panels that soundproof the room when shut. With the doors open, the large screen can be synched with the building’s other monitors, quickly converting the space into an auditorium, and the area’s seating cubes also can be moved and reconfigured as needed, he said.
“There is plenty of open space for students to function,” McQueen said.
Around the main area are six study rooms where the walls can be used as whiteboards, McQueen said, and there are 13 spacious classrooms with windows that let in natural light. Each classroom is centered on a certain subject, and teachers will rotate between them, but they have their own workspaces in a teachers’ room that can accommodate 15 teachers and is complete with a collaboration area.
The building also has chemical, biological and physical science labs, bamboo flooring and an outdoor patio that will have 15 picnic tables. A side access road will allow buses and parents to travel from the roundabout on University Boulevard through the adjacent CCU parking lot and drop off students at the side of the building.
McQueen said even though the building is on the CCU campus, it will operate just like any other Horry County school. Visitors will have to be buzzed in at the door, and Scholars drink and snack machines won’t offer regular soft drinks, snack foods or anything that doesn’t follow school food service regulations, although students still will have access to food services around campus.
“That’s going to be the biggest shock to the system,” said McQueen, especially for older students who are used to having Oreos and Coca-Cola readily available. The building does not have a cafeteria, but students will be able to order lunch each morning from the menu at HCS Early College High School, which is on the neighboring Horry-Georgetown Technical College campus. That service, coupled with plenty of space for dining, should become popular with students as time goes on, he said.
Teacher Wendy Shoemaker said it was close quarters in her classroom in Baxley Hall, and the new building will be a welcome change.
“Just having space for these kids to work, I’m looking forward to that,” she said, “and having all of us together is a big thing.”
Maxey said a lot of students attended the building dedication that was held Monday, including students who already have graduated from the program.
“We are very close – they know it’s their program,” Maxey said, “and it’s been rewarding for me to hear what they have to say.”
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.