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From collapse to construction, a new building takes shape

‘Awesome’ new band room, modernized cafeteria are highlights

Godfrey-Lee — Facing the front entrance of Lee Middle and High Schools, all looks the same as it did last spring. 

Entering the building, however, new classrooms and learning spaces are taking shape with upgraded floors, ceilings and LED lighting. 

Older, historic portions of the school meet new air conditioning systems and updated mechanical, electrical and plumbing equipment. 

Over 100 years old, the building experienced a structural failure in June 2019, causing part of the roof to collapse. In November 2020, the community voted in support of a $17.79 million bond program to fund a major transformation to the building.

‘We have old brass hand rails in the stairways dating back to the Titanic. Think of all the hands that touched these railings.’

– Ralph Shiffer, construction site superintendent 

Walking through the front door and into the band room, Lee High School Principal Andy Steketee talked with construction site superintendent Ralph Shiffer about the “mystery of the thick walls” from when the school was originally built in the 1920s. 

Principal Andy Steketee in one of the updated, ‘more welcoming’ classrooms featuring LED lighting, AC units and more energy efficient technology

“Parts of the building are 100, 80 and 50 years old,” Steketee said. “Ralph is working with what we’ve got.”

“We have old brass hand rails in the stairways dating back to the Titanic,” Shiffer said. “Think of all the hands that touched these railings.” 

In the 1950s, the 1,800-square-foot band room served as the basketball court. By the end of construction, it will evolve into a health suite for the school nurse’s office, Kent School Services Network coordinators and other mental health services.

The new band room, growing to 2,300 square feet, will eventually house band and orchestra students, practice and storage rooms. Promised Steketee, “It’s going to be awesome.” 

“The new band room is going to be a beautiful space,” agreed district Superintendent Mike Burde. “You see it in the renderings but once you see it in person it’s real and it’s exciting.”

Work Ahead of Schedule  

Burde is hopeful to see the new band room completed by February 2023. Officials broke ground last spring on the restoration and expansion project.

The project is being managed by Owen-Ames-Kimball Co. and designed by TowerPinkster.

‘The start of this year has been infinitely better than last year. Our kids are resilient and they adapt well.’

– High School Principal Andy Steketee

He shared that new construction is currently ahead of schedule, “a miracle nowadays.” Officials also agreed the school should see the new cafeteria by Thanksgiving.  

“New kitchen equipment will help provide more food choices for students,” Steketee said. 

The new space will also introduce soft seating options for lunch time: “Our students will never sit on a bench to eat lunch again, no longer those benches that fold in half,” he said. 

A portion of the renovated classrooms is planned to open for student and teacher use by October, with a second round finished by January. 

“There are challenges with losing learning space during this construction,” Steketee said. “Our teachers have been extremely flexible and understanding with keeping the end result in mind.” 

With parts of the school under construction while learning continues to occur, some teachers have been temporarily displaced to different parts of the school. A science teacher was moved from their lab to a regular classroom on the first floor and two classes currently occupy the school’s common area. 

Steketee also acknowledged student anxiety and uncertainty returning to school while it is under construction. 

“Last year, coming back in the fall was a chaotic start to the school year,” he said. “The start of this year has been infinitely better than last year. Our kids are resilient and they adapt well.”

Construction funded by the 2020 bond continues at Lee Middle and High Schools
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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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