Take a first look inside Lexington’s new state-of-the-art high school

Fayette County’s new $82 million public high school on Winchester Road — the sixth general high school in the district — has 899 students enrolled so far; 89 staff members and 88 classrooms.

Staff members at the 350,000-square-foot Frederick Douglass High School, which opens to students Aug. 16, have high expectations.

“We want to make a difference and impact as many lives as possible,” said Principal Lester Diaz. “We want to make a positive impact on Lexington, Kentucky, and the United States in the way that we educate our kids. We want to give our kids a competitive advantage and at the same time…we want this community to have a viable workforce and an intelligent workforce.”

Reporters on Friday got a first look inside the building, which has features not found in a traditional high school, said Shawn Hinds, academy coach at Douglass.

The cafeteria has a food court instead of a traditional cafeteria. It opens to the rest of the school, Hinds said. The food court has a “social stairway” with USB ports where students can charge their phones while they eat their lunches. There are two gymnasiums, one of which holds 2,500 spectators, and a state-of-the-art workout facility equivalent to those used by NFL teams.

The girl’s volleyball team practiced Friday in one of the gymnasiums. Player Sarah Mueller, who transferred from Tates Creek High School when her father moved into Douglass’ district, said she loved the new school.

“I think it’s going to be a new start for Lexington,” said Sarah, who will be a junior.

All students who started high school at another Fayette building were given the option of staying there.

Hinds said the building is situated on a North-South axis, which provides natural light to all the classrooms throughout the day. The building uses LED and solar lighting and has a geothermal heat pump, keeping the energy use and carbon footprint low.

The building also has state-of-the-art security, high-definition cameras and Raptor, a visitor management software designed to help ensure student and staff safety.

Choir Director Jessica Greene said she thought the auditorium, which seats more than 400 for performances, showed that “the same care that’s been given to every part of the school has also been applied here. It’s nice to see the arts receive such a wonderful place to perform.”

The school, which ultimately could have 1,800 students, will be divided into small learning communities or academies that focus on such topics as health science, technology or professional services, including law or teaching. Each academy will have its own principal and its own media center, housing library materials that are specific to the particular field of study.

All students in the Freshman Academy will visit a college campus and perform community service. In designing instruction, the staff will factor in topics that students say interest them, said Freshman Academy Principal Joshua Williams.

Teachers won’t be assigned to classrooms; they have individual work spaces together in each academy so they can collaborate. They also have what amounts to a desk on wheels that they can move throughout the building.

All furniture in the building is generally on wheels so it can be mobile. An interactive flat panel monitor is in each classroom.

“We can transform a room any way we want,” Hinds said.

Alan Mayes, principal of the Technology Academy, said his goal is for “students to receive as much real world experience as they can.”

Heather Brinkman will be the principal of the new Academy of Health Sciences, where health professions will be taught, and the new Biomedical Sciences Magnet program, which is designed to produce researchers, physicians and scientists.

There will be plenty of opportunity for dual enrollment high school and college classes and for advanced placement classes, but also courses that will give students “a step up in the workforce,” Brinkman said. “I hope that when they graduate from Douglass High School, they not only have industry certificates where they can go out and possibly get a job, but they are a step ahead for college if they choose to take that route as well.”

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears