Construction tour of new McNair Junior High and Jemison High School

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Much like the astronauts they're named for, the new McNair Junior High and Jemison High School are impressive and larger than life.

“We’ve got all the latest and greatest in security, in technology, athletic programs, fine arts programs, it’s the whole thing," says Jeff Gattis, the Director of Construction and Renovation for Huntsville City Schools.

McNair is father along. Everything from the smart boards in the classroom, to the latest in energy efficient LED lighting has been included.  Gattis says LED lights will save the district millions of dollars each year. “We’ve got a $9 million utility bill every year, so you cut 40% out of that every year, few years you can buy a new school," he says.

The 345,000 square foot facility boasts a lot. Both gyms have been built as a tornado shelter that can withstand an EF-5 twister, but you won't find a library.  “The days of an encyclopedia and that kind of stuff, they’re gone. We just don’t do that anymore," says Gattis.

The traditional library has been replaced by a Media Library, connected to the cafeteria, that acts more like an internet cafe. Gattis says you'll still find some books, but not many.

The schools also share a kitchen. “There’s a corridor around back that they bring the food over and serve it here," he says.

The bottom floor of Jemison High School is the home of the Career Academies.  “We’ve got cyber security, we’ve got advanced manufacturing, we’ve got a law academy," says Gattis. Upstairs, they've tried to create a university-like atmosphere for the College Academies.  “They’ll go through the four years of high school and graduate with 60 credit hours of college, which ultimately they’ll enter college as a junior," he says.

There's still much work to be done, like finishing the gymnasium unofficially dubbed "The House that Jack Doss Built." but Gattis says both schools will be ready for students on August 3.

Attention to security

“These schools are as safe as they can be," says Gattis.  “You won’t find a safer one anywhere around.” All new schools across the district will feature doors with keycard access, available only by teachers and administrators. If an active shooter somehow made it into the building, "We can lock down the whole school with the punch of a button from several different places in the school," he says.

Each classroom is connected through doors at the back of the room, meaning they can evacuate students and teachers, leaving the intruder trapped.  “We lock him in the hallway and we get everyone out of the way," says Gattis.

That's assuming a "bad guy" can get in, in the first place.  “We’ve got cameras everywhere, you’re not going to be able to walk through the school without being seen on camera unless you’re in a bathroom or locker room basically," he says.

The design for the school's front offices also prevent visitors from accessing students, unless they're approved.  “You’ve got to go through two more locked doors before you get to the student," says Gattis.

All in the interest of being prepared, for whatever might happen.  “Our goal is to keep students safe," he says.

District officials say they have other security plans in place, but don't want to share everything, so they don't "tell the bad guys what we're doing."

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