A whole new feel at T.C.

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As students poured off the buses in front of T.C. Williams on the first day of school Tuesday, there were the familiar student antics in an unfamiliar zone, as the city celebrated the opening of the first high school in 42 years.

Among the hugs, high fives, laughter and cell phone conversations, it was a first for Barbara Finney, the schools peer mediator specialist. With more than 40 years as a teacher and 38 in the City of Alexandria, this is the first Ive ever taught in a new school, she said.

Principal Mel Riddile enjoyed the novelty of the new building, which is outfitted with many green, technology elements, including an influx of windows and skylights to bring in the natural lighting. The lighting promotes a good mood in the students, and is very inviting, he said.

The new school building, which cost nearly $100 million, is a big step for the school system and the students as they look forward to a new year. There are three areas of concentration underlying the curriculum at T.C. this year, and that includes diversity, technology and the green features, said Riddile. The diversity is something they live, and the greens going to be the same way, Riddile said. The schools video production class is currently working on a video, highlighting the green features, which include a rooftop garden, a rain water cistern, and flushless toilets in the bathroom.

Mayor William Euille was on hand as the buses pulled up just before 8 a.m. A graduate of T.C. himself, hed been at T.C.s first day before, back in 1965, when the first building was built on the same grounds. I think this is going to be a catalyst for a lot of excitement in the schools city wide, he said. Were encouraging developers to adopt green construction, Euille added.

Parking issues
As an endless line of cars wound up from King Street to the front door, parents and students got the message that parking will be limited until next year when the new parking garage is completed. The old building is still intact on the spot where the new garage will be built over the coming year. Seventy to 80 percent of the students currently ride the schools 24 buses, and the school system encourages more to ride the bus, walk or ride bikes.

Sam Waskowicz, 16, showed up the first day on his bike. He trekked over from his house near Mount Vernon Elementary School after hearing about the parking and commuting options. This was just a test, he said.

The construction includes a new bicycle rack, but it has not been put in place yet, so bikers were encouraged to put their bikes in the rack at the Chinquapin Park right across the street. The park is closed for the week for its annual cleaning and repair.

The school system had two open house days in August so students could get acclimated to the layout, and a map of the school is available on the website, although students dont get issued a laptop computer before the first day. Nearly 1,000 students attended the open houses, including Zoe Quint, a 17-year-old senior. Its massive, she said of the building.

Last year, T.C. had an open campus because the cafeteria would not hold all the students at lunch time. This year it is closed, with students being shuffled into three different lunch shifts, but the school day hours were shifted accordingly.

This first day scenario was similar in 11 of the citys 13 elementary schools and the two middle schools last Tuesday, the traditional first day of school right after Labor Day. Mount Vernon Elementary School in Del Ray and  Samuel Tucker Elementary school off Duke Street have year-round schedules.

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