Mundelein High School's new wing for science, technology, engineering and math education received rave reviews Tuesday, the first day of classes for the 2016-17 term.
"It's big," junior Kaleb Carlson said as he surveyed an airy science lab loaded with pipes and electrical conduit deliberately left exposed for learning opportunities. "I like the design of it. It's really modern."
And it wasn't only the students who were impressed.
Engineering design teacher Chris Stennett seemed absolutely giddy as he showed students the high-tech equipment in his classroom, including a camera system that can project a student's work on an enormous video screen at the front of the room.
"It's overwhelming," Stennett said. "It's all the bells and whistles you could have as an instructor."
The three-story wing features new classrooms, science labs, an area for product creation, offices and other amenities. It was built on land that had been a courtyard near the center of the school.
Construction cost about $23.7 million and took about 16 months to complete. Aside from some minor trim and paint work that needs to be done, the project finished on time and on budget, officials said.
"Every classroom was open (Tuesday) and ready for students to start learning," Superintendent Kevin Myers said.
An $8.3 million state grant is covering about 35 percent of the project's cost. The rest of the money will come from a loan.
Among the wing's more unusual elements is a series of meeting rooms near math classes that can be used for breakout discussions and team projects. Glass walls that separate the rooms can be collapsed to create even larger spaces.
"It's a more comfortable and collaborative environment for students to work together," Principal Anthony Kroll said. "It gives us a lot more opportunities than we had before."
An estimated 1,971 students are enrolled at Mundelein High this year. That includes more than 500 freshmen.
Myers said he loved watching students enter the building for the first time Tuesday, and listening to what they had to say about the new space.
"The comments we heard most frequently was that this didn't look like a high school, that it looked like a college," he said. "That was the intent we had with the addition, to give it a university-type feel."
A public grand-opening celebration is planned for Sept. 10.