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New labs spring to life

WINDSOR – An innovative partnership between opposite coasts is paying more dividends in Bertie County.

Last week, work began in earnest on a project to turn a pair of former vocational rooms at the Bertie Ninth Grade Academy into new computer labs that facilitate learning and provide a more open look than a traditional computer lab.

The partnership between Project H, a charitable organization that supports, creates, delivers, and scales life-improving humanitarian product design solutions, and Bertie County Schools began last academic year when they designed and implemented four Learning Landscapes at the elementary schools in the county.

“At that time we looked at several spaces at Bertie High School and other locations that needed to be improved and made more inviting,” said Bertie County Schools Assistant Superintendent Kenneth Perry. “We wanted to take these two computer labs and make them completely different and exciting.”

With that goal in mind, the school district turned to a familiar friend in Project H. Matt Miller, a Project Manager with the group, had worked with the school district before. He quickly began working on designing the new computer labs with a new philosophy.

“They are very practical, but the driving principal is circulation,” Miller said of the two new rooms. “Before, the kids sat around the room, shoulder-to-shoulder and with their backs to the teacher.”

The new design features three, nine-side towers in the room, each of which provide space for eight computer stations. All the wiring and electricity run through the towers and into the stations. The ninth side of each tower allows access to the center for maintenance purposes.

“Basically what they are left with now is their own private space,” Perry said. “Before you had someone right on top of you if you were working, but that won’t be the case with the new labs.”

Miller said another advantage was for the teacher.

“With eight students in each pod, the room has an open circulation, which allows the teacher to make direct eye contact with students as they are working,” Miller said.

The design is not one that had been used before and simply duplicated in Bertie County. Instead, Miller came to the district, looked at the rooms and went back to design something that would work in those spaces.

“It is built from scratch,” Miller said. “We met with (Superintendent of Schools) Dr. (Chip) Zullinger, Mr. Perry and (Ninth Grade Academy Principal Mr. (Trey) Peele and took it from there.”

After designing the rooms, which took about two weeks, Miller returned to the site to begin the actual construction for the project. Miller is working to do all fabrication and installation of the towers. Afterwards, a carpenter and electrician will finish the project with painting, carpentry and electrical work.

Perry said the computer lab would feature all-new laptops that had already been ordered. The two labs will be also be outfitted with new hardware and software and will serve a total of 48 students at the time.

“While it is built for the preparatory high school (Ninth Grade Academy), certainly it will be available to the Early College High School as well since they are also on this campus,” Perry said.

The project is about two-thirds complete and is expected to be finished within the next couple of weeks.

The partnership between the school district and Project H, however, is far from over as they both plan to continue to work together in the future.

“They’re fantastic to work for,” Miller said of the school district officials. “There is so much possibility here and the people here are open to new ideas. As a designer and builder, you can’t ask for more than that.”

Miller said many clients, especially public school districts, were not open to new ideas or innovative partnerships. Perry, however, said that was exactly the school district’s hope when they partnered with Project H.

“Every time we sit down to talk, the ideas just flow,” Perry said. “We always want that kind of innovative thinking.”