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School to turn locker room into living-learning center

Central High School Principal Melissa Hensley leans against a row of lockers in the school's old girl's locker room. The locker room will be renovated into a classroom this summer for postgraduate students with special needs. Ryan Cornell/Daily (Buy photo)

By Ryan Cornell

WOODSTOCK -- The latest apartment being built in Woodstock has prime access to the town's high school.

Crack open a window and you can see the school's parking lot. Take a few steps out the front door and you're in the gymnasium.

That's because the old girl's locker room at Central High School, still graced with the same showers and lockers from when the school was built in the 1950s, is being renovated into a apartment-style living space and career area.

But it won't be going on the market anytime soon. Starting in September, it will be used by postgraduate students in Shenandoah County with intellectual disabilities.

Pat Nelson, director of special education in Shenandoah County Public Schools, said the space will include a kitchenette, laundry room, living room and bedroom area.

She said students will learn functional life skills such as putting in loads of laundry, cooking meals, cleaning the table and making a bed.

Students will learn how to use their free time, she said, whether it's by reading, using an iPad or listening to music.

"So it's going to encompass all of those things we do as an adult, yet have those opportunities to learn and train and practice under supported services," she said.

These postgraduate students will also learn how to deal with noisy neighbors, joked Central High Principal Melissa Hensley.

She said these students will have graduated high school in Shenandoah County and will be between 18 and 21 years old. She said she anticipates between 13 and 15 students starting next year.

She said the former Physical Education office, now used for storage, will be turned into a conference room that employers can use to interview postgraduate students for jobs or that staff can use to work one-on-one with students.

She said that they've looked at the postgraduate programs at Blue Ridge Community College and Spotswood High School, but neither of them have everything in one space like Central's plans.

"So there are lots of folks throughout the region who are very interested in this project right now and want to come see what we're doing when it's finished," she said.

Work on the renovation is expected to begin this summer. Gene Dykes, maintenance supervisor for Shenandoah County Public Schools, said they're going to do most of the work themselves, from the cabinet and kitchen work to lighting.

On Thursday, an architect from RRMM Architects in Roanoke was at the school to size up the space and consult with the staff.

Dykes estimated a cost for the project between $55,000 and $75,000. Funding will come from multiple sources, including a Capital Improvement Project fund, a $15,000 grant from the Donald D. Starnes Edcuational Trust and a $9,000 donation from Strasburg High School

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com

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