Buena Vista High School lives up to its name.
From the Ralston Arena to tall buildings in the Aksarben area, miles of Omaha streets and buildings are visible from third-floor windows of the still-unfinished school at 60th and L Streets.
The school’s name, approved earlier this month by the Omaha Public Schools board, was intended to recognize the area’s beautiful views.
Wednesday, OPS officials gave members of the news media a tour of the school as construction continues on the future home of the Bison.
The top floor of the school has multiple windows in nearly every classroom. The bathrooms have colorful tiles that officials said were installed at the request of students who wanted the school to be colorful and bright.
Like the third floor, the second floor of the school also is an academic wing with classrooms. The first floor is a commons area that also will serve as cafeteria seating.
“As students walk in, it will be breathtaking,” said Lisa Sterba, chief operations officer for OPS. “It’s raised roofs, it’s light, it’s airy, it’s beautiful.”
The building also has a gym that students enter from above, a black box theater and a courtyard where students can socialize, eat lunch or do outdoor learning. Sterba said officials wanted the design of the school to be open and offer a lot of opportunities for students to lead their learning.
Unlike at other schools, Buena Vista teachers won’t be assigned to certain classrooms. They will have office space and move to different classes. Sterba said the furniture will be flexible and movable.
The hallways at Buena Vista are wider than those at most schools, and the school has more open spaces for students to gather and work on projects. Buena Vista will have a few lockers, but not like what is typically seen in older high schools.
Sterba said the district will base a lot of the curriculum around technology. Students will have iPads they will carry with them.
Students in ninth and 10th grades will attend the school in its first year of operation.
Carrie Carr, who will serve as the school’s principal when it opens in the 2022-23 school year, now serves as principal of Norris Middle School. Carr said students come up to her every day to say they can’t wait to attend the new high school.
The school sits on a little more than 40 acres. It will be 285,000 square feet and cost $92 million.
Out west, construction continues on the other new OPS high school, Westview High School at 156th and Ida Streets. It too will open in the 2022-2023 school year.
That school, the home of the Wolverines, will sit on nearly 73 acres and will be 315,000 square feet. It will include a joint YMCA facility with a six-lane indoor pool and a fitness center. Its estimated cost is $92 million.
Thomas Lee, who serves as principal of Northwest High School, will be the principal at Westview. Lee said he’s focused on his current job, but said he has been getting text updates from friends who live near the new school.
“They’re all telling me it looks beautiful and that things are coming along and progressing very well,” Lee said.
It has been decades since OPS has built a new high school. Northwest and Bryan High, which opened in the 1970s, were the last to be built.
The high schools, two new elementary schools and new middle schools all are being built thanks to bond issues approved by voters.
A $421 million bond issue was passed in 2014 and a $409.9 million bond issue was passed in 2018. In addition to the new schools, the district used the money from the bond issues to do building renovations at existing schools and update safety, security and technology.
Before those bond issues, OPS hadn’t put a bond referendum on the ballot since 1999, causing building needs to pile up.
Some of the district’s elementary, middle and high schools are above capacity. Areas of South Omaha have seen the biggest increases in population.
If there’s a silver lining for OPS in the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s in the construction and renovation of the district’s schools, Sterba said. The district was able to do a lot of work on the schools without having to worry about students and staff using the building at the same time.