New Keithley Middle School Commons puts students in the spotlight

For Maiya McAuliffe, it’s all about that bass. And the tuba.

The eighth-grader plays both.

She and other members of the Keithley Middle School band were among the first to perform in the new Keithley Commons at her school in Parkland.

So far, Maiya and her classmates, who played Thursday at the building’s grand opening celebration, like what they see.

“It’s more modern,” Maiya said. “There’s acoustics.”

Euphonium player Celeste Shadlow, also an eighth-grader, agreed: “Our sound traveled very well.”

She and other student musicians are looking forward to using their new band room and instrument lockers. They say it’s a big step up from their old one, which was in a former shop building.

The $8.5 million commons, which opened Dec. 15, is the first major new construction in the Franklin Pierce School District in more than a decade. The last school the district built was Midland Elementary, which opened in 2003.

The commons was financed from the district’s capital levy, which Franklin Pierce voters approved in 2012. It will do triple duty for the school and district as a performance space, school cafeteria and central kitchen facility.

Its performing arts space will host school performances, including this year’s spring musical, “Annie Junior.” The stage is equipped with theatrical lighting and a sound system. There also is choral room for choir practice, as well as a computer lab.

With seating for more than 500, the commons can be used for district teacher training, and it will be available for rentals by community groups when not being used for school functions.

The commons kitchen will provide meals not only for Keithley, but also for the district’s eight elementary schools. The kitchen can provide 4,500 breakfasts and 4,500 lunches each day.

On school days, the space used for audience seating during performances converts into the Keithley cafeteria, which can seat 480.

The first lunches were served the day the commons opened. Sixth-grader Kyle Atoigue said he liked having more food choices.

He thinks the commons is “kind of cool — it’s big.”

Choir director Mallory Flemister, whose students also performed at Thursday’s grand opening, is glad her singers can rehearse in the same place where they will perform. While the commons was under construction over the past year, rehearsals took place in a portable classroom.

“It’s exciting to have something that’s our own,” she said.

The new commons was built on the same site as the school’s old commons building. All but one corner of the old building was demolished.

The new building — 4,272 square feet larger than its predecessor — is modern looking, simple and functional.

“This building is not full of bling,” said School Board President Cole Roberts. “We always look to get the most value out of our dollar.”

District officials hope the new look at Keithley will spark the start of more improvements for the Franklin Pierce district, which has several aging facilities.

In spring or early summer, the district plans to break ground for a building much like Keithley Commons at its other middle school, Ford. The project is being financed from the 2012 capital levy, along with classroom modernization and energy-efficiency upgrades throughout the district.

In January, the district will reconvene a facilities committee to look at a possible bond measure in 2016 to finance future school construction.

“This has been a long time coming,” Superintendent Frank Hewins said at the commons grand opening. “I hope it is a taste of things to come. Our kids deserve facilities like this to show what they know.”

Keithley Principal Tom Edwards said teachers and students throughout the district have been making do with aging facilities for a while.

“This is an awesome start to what we can do for our community,” he said. “I’m glad we could start at Keithley.”