Yokosuka Middle School science teacher Kathryn McNeal sizes up the task ahead as she moves into her new classroom on Wednesday.

Yokosuka Middle School science teacher Kathryn McNeal sizes up the task ahead as she moves into her new classroom on Wednesday. (Joseph Giordono / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Most of the classrooms have no furniture, the hallways no lockers, and the building certainly has no students since summer vacation started last week.

But with the long-awaited completion of Yokosuka’s new middle school, teachers and administrators this week are moving in and looking forward to the upcoming year in a new complex.

“I can’t tell you how high the morale is right now,” said Leslie Dunkle, Yokosuka Middle School principal. “Everyone is ecstatic with what we have here. For the last four years, we have had two teachers in almost every classroom. Now, they all have their own spaces.”

For years, the middle school fought a losing battle against overcrowding and lack of space. The student population grew each year, topping out in the just-finished school year at almost 800 students. Four years ago, there were just more than 600.

Teachers held classes in “portables,” and classrooms were spread over several buildings shared with Kinnick High School. The middle school now features its own gym, cafeteria and athletic fields.

“One of the biggest differences is going to be ease of communication. We’re actually all going to be in the same complex, and we’ll have such things as a functioning intercom system, which we didn’t have before,” Dunkle said.

Originally scheduled for completion in December 2002, construction on the new school was delayed several times, mostly because of budget issues. A grand-opening ceremony — to be attended by the Department of Defense Dependents Schools system director — now is set for Aug. 27.

School officials hope to give students and parents a peek at the school sometime this summer, before classes begin Aug. 25.

For now, the halls are filled with cardboard boxes and dozens of workers who are moving furniture and putting the final touches on the facility.

“I would say this is the fun part, but it really isn’t,” said Kathryn McNeal, a sixth-grade science teacher who was unpacking dozens of boxes in her new classroom.

For the past two years, McNeal’s room was a portable, not exactly conducive to a science class. Now, she has amenities such as a fume hood and long rows of sinks and experiment areas.

“I’m going to be able to do a lot more stuff in this room, so I have to revamp what I’m teaching now,” she said.

Each classroom also will be equipped with an INFOCUS system, which lets teachers project images from their desktop computers to screens on the walls.

According to George Mann, a middle-school assistant principal, the new facility has almost double the square footage of the old buildings. The moving process will continue over the summer, he said.

The complex was built by Japanese contractors, using both American and Japanese building standards. One feature is a tatami room to be used by the host nation and Japanese language teacher.

While the new middle school should alleviate crowding at Kinnick, the buildings formerly occupied by the middle school will not be used by the high school. Plans now call for them to be used by the base.

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