The library is the heart of creativity on any school campus. And, at the new Waxahachie High School, the Benton and Wanda Cain Library will serve as just that.
The Benton and Wanda Cain Library is an enormous room radiates with natural light that will energize a visitor, just as the elevated ceilings exude infinite possibilities. The learning area will provide a variety of books and experiences for students.
Longtime head librarian, Megan Mills, said she is sometimes brought to tears because she is "just really happy about everything and it’s been a long process and a long wait for something like this. And I visited a lot of libraries across the state, and this is the most beautiful one I’ve seen so far.”
In the history of Waxahachie High, there have only been two lead librarians — as well as two brand-new libraries. The first was Benton Cain, the namesake of the new library, and his one-time student, Mills.
Mills played an intricate role in the layout and design of the new space. As the mastermind, she reviewed scholarly libraries across Texas. Mills expressed her input and recommendations were valued by WISD administration throughout the process.
Mills has been an educator for 32 years and has spent 23 years with the library. One of the ideas she advocated for was the adjoined lecture hall, which seats150 students in black padded theatre-style seats with a “W” and arrow logo printed on the headrests.
“I was envisioning kids doing presentations, teachers having speakers,” relayed Mills about the lecture hall. “We had people come through and ask, ‘What would you do in a lecture hall?’ Well, what can you not do? There’s so much.”
For Mills, the opportunities are endless.
Mills also serves as the UIL academics coordinator, so tying in the lecture hall was ideal. Also located in the library next to the librarian’s offices is the college career counselor to prepare students for higher education and advanced academics.
Even though it was difficult for Mills to look into the future of the potential of the library with boxes to still unpack and plastic-wrapped furniture, she is optimistic about hosting UIL competitions in a library she is proud of. She believes the Benton and Wanda Cain Library will be a focal point of the new high school.
The beauty of working with a new space was the ability to collaborate with a design team. While at the old high school, the design team met with Mills and, at that meeting, the team was able to see how the library struggled to maximize space. During the meeting, the adults were elbow to elbow with other students who utilized the library resources.
At the old high school, Mills would open the library doors 30 minutes before the school day, and there were always a few students who sat outside the doors every morning, waiting for them to be unlocked.
“We would see 160 kids a morning, maybe closer to 200,” Mills explained.
Since it is a high school atmosphere, the students do have more freedom, and because of that, the library is almost always densely occupied.
“And this last year, since we were so overcrowded at the school, during the lunch periods I would see the kids eating lunch on the floor, and it freaked me out,” Mills added. “So I let go of the old librarian and let them eat lunch in the library.”
Excluding the lecture hall, the three collaboration rooms, two hardwired computer labs, and the Chrome book lab, the library itself can comfortably seat more than 200 people. The number alone is more than five groups of classes.
With the new building, she has not distinguished if lunch will be prohibited in the library.
“It’s going to be interesting on the first day of school to see where they gravitate to like I always had my kids who sat on the couches. Well now you’ve got seating, there, there, there, up at the front,” Mills elaborated. “I had a charmer table, a football table, a theatre table, my different clique of kids. It’s going to be so fun.”
Mills said the room exemplifies the students, her and the staff. She has made sure the same culture instilled at the old high school would carry over at the new high school. That culture includes an open door policy and a safe zone. She tries to support the needs of the students whether that be academically or mentally.
“It’s so important that they have a place to go and they know that when they come in here, they won’t be judged," Mills emphasized.
Mills also shared that the old high school did not have any electrical outlets and poor lighting.
The lighting aspect stands out to Mills the most and she is infatuated with the yellow painted stripe, “because it feels really positive here and open. But, we had no light in our other school. It was like a cave over there.”
She added, “At the other school we literally had no electricity — like literally, two main outlets for the kids to plug into.”
Now, multiple tables are equipped with electrical plugs.
When combatting space at the old high school, the librarians had to sacrifice their offices for the students and storage. Now, all three librarians, Mills, Judy Pelt and Darlene Bann will have a desk to themselves. With an adequate storage room, Mills will be able to reestablish the Geek Squad, which serves as a student IT department.
The library is equipped with three small group collaboration rooms that incorporate whiteboards and additional technology in two.
Outside the doors of the collaboration rooms, is a flexible seating area for nontraditional teachers. Mills expects the students to hang out in this area the most with beanbags, flattened couches and cylinder padded seats.
“I tried to envision kids and how they will learn in the future and for all of them it’s not about sitting in your chair,” Mills explained. “I watched them in the library at the old school, they bring their own laptops and lay on the couches and work.”
Mills eliminated books — approximately 6,000 — to fit the design of the new library. And, though the original plans included several mobile floor shelves, the idea proved especially tricky after infusing the library from the former Waxahachie Ninth Grade Academy.
“And this year, we had a lot of books that were in pretty decent shape, and we found out there was a school in Houston that was devastated from Hurricane Harvey, and we were approved to ship 40 boxes to them,” Mills elaborated.
For Mills, the library needed to be fluid. At the old high school, Mills was rearranging all the time. She said the kids loved it and it helped the students embrace their space. At the new library, just about everything is adaptable.
NEXT TO COME
As she unwraps boxes and plastic-covered chairs, Mills said she keeps a small notebook of ideas, needs and wants for the new space.
Among those things she has envisioned is art. The panels in the entrance will have quotes from the Cains plastered on both. Mills also heard flags would hang in the center of the library and murals of the Ellis County Courthouse, a gingerbread house and two maps of Waxahachie and Texas would be painted in the central area.
There will be an open house from 6—9 p.m. Monday, Aug. 13.
Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450