Beautification of RHS

You overslept the alarm (again) and you’re late for class. As you run towards the main entrance, marked by the recently-installed RHS emblem, you notice that where the doors should be there is only a massive cave entrance. You enter hesitantly, and the first thing you notice is the potted plants- they’re everywhere, and they’ve grown since you’ve seen them last. In fact, the little bushes have completely overgrown their frail pots, breaking them and expanding into the hallway. A jungly environment surrounds you, as walls have given way to creeper-laden tree trunks and the ceiling to a leafy overgrowth. A hummingbird whizzes by you, and you swear you can even hear the holler of a gorilla somewhere. Bewildered, you take a step backwards, but the cave entrance has already been covered over by a verdant moss that hastily set in at 7:45. It’s back to nature, alright.

You stumble upon your words as you ask, “What is going on?”

Standing right beside you is Dr. Gorman, who cheerfully replies, “Why, it’s beautification!”

While our school’s efforts to beautify the school haven’t gone quite that far yet, they do seem to have been advancing at a rapidly fast pace over the last few years. Many students have pointed out the new potted plants, the medieval signs indicating “ye olde Main Office,” and the college-like RHS flags decorating the lampposts around campus. To truly grasp the essence of these new additions to the school terrain, the RHS High Times sat down with the architect of this undertaking himself, Dr. Gorman.

The purpose of beautification, according to Dr. Gorman, is “first impressions.” He elaborates, “When people look at a building, they want to get a good feel of the atmosphere and the culture. A lot of people come to me and say, ‘This building’s a hundred years old, and it’s starting to look like it’s not in the best shape.’ When people look at a building and it doesn’t look good, people then make, a lot of times incorrectly, assumptions about the place.” Gorman argues that this is a concept that us students, especially seniors, are already familiar with- “When you go on college campuses, it’s all about that. Are the lawns neatly groomed, are the flags up, do they have a new pool? Then you look at the curriculum, the teachers, and so on.” Beautification, Gorman contends, would enhance this first impression and make the school a more lively place for students, teachers, and visitors.

RHS students seem to agree that the beautification efforts have, as a whole, succeeded in this goal of improving impressions. According to a survey conducted by the RHS High Times, 45.3% of respondents believe that the beautification has positively impacted how they see the school, and 14.1% say it has very positively impacted this view. As for individual projects, students have been a bit more skeptical. When asked to name their least favorite aspect of beautification, many of those who responded wrote that the plants seemed unnecessary. Junior Luca Richman even wrote, “Some of the plants are fire hazards, in my opinion.”

Other critiques of the beautification campaign have been aimed at its execution. Senior Aidan Callaghan says, “In the science wing there are super blurry photos in very nice frames. I think we could invest in slightly higher quality photos.” Similar complaints have been directed at the blown-up photo of the school near the campus center and the main office. Many students wince at the low-resolution image and the stark black-and-white color scheme against the off-white wall. Sophomore Aaron Friedman called this installation a “pixelated image that just looks absolutely terrible.” Friedman further commented on the undertaking in general, “School beautification is a worthy cause… however, it has to be done in a way that looks professional.”

Despite these minor criticisms, most students agree these projects have generally been a positive undertaking. The signs, in both the main office hallway and elsewhere, have succeeded as a stylistic execution of their main goal: to help students and visitors find their way around. Dr. Gorman commented, “Just a few years back, I was getting complaints from parents and from visitors who didn’t know where the front entrance is. They don’t know where the front entrance is, they don’t know where the gymnasiums are. So that’s why we started putting up the signs. Right away, that helps with all of the people coming in for SATs. So all that helps logistically, by helping students fundamentally go about their day.” And students seem to agree- 64.1% of survey respondents reported that they approved or strongly approved of the hallway additions.

As for funding, most students have voiced negative opinions concerning the perceived cost of the beautification campaign. In the survey, sophomore Luke Notaro remarked that he disliked how beautification was too costly and that he felt the money could be better spent. Sophomore Alex Kenney commented, “Trying so hard to make the school pretty but not making real improvements in the system just adds to the stereotype that Ridgewood only cares about preserving its reputation without taking real action.” Both these students are proponents of a viewpoint shared by many in the RHS student body, which is that beautification is a costly enterprise that pulls money away from more worthy pursuits.  

However, these students and many others would be surprised to learn where money actually comes from. When asked what percentage of beautification they believed was funded by the school budget, 32.8% of respondents reported 20-40%, and 40.6% of respondents reported 50-70%. In reality, the correct answer to this question is 0%, an answer that not a single respondent chose. Dr. Gorman elaborated, “Money for these beautification projects, which is a small amount, is coming only from the Alumni Association, the HSA, and the Education Foundation.” This means that funds aren’t being detracted from the taxpayer-financed school budget, which covers other matters such as the curriculum, staffing, and building repairs.

In addition, the relative cost of beautification is actually quite low. Dr. Gorman stated, “Plants and other small additions might cost $1,000, but give a really good impression and also help beautify the place. These organizations are giving me a few thousand for beautification, but then they’re also giving me $10-$20,000 for other things. Take for example the $175,000 grant for the sciences- that had nothing to do with beautification. The HSA also gives me money for band equipment. It’s about trying to do all of these different aspects simultaneously.” To put the few thousand required for beautification into perspective, the cost of replacing a single leak is usually around $100,000 because it requires replacing all of the piping. The school is still working on fixing necessary issues in tandem- in fact, the Board of Education is currently talking about a $70 million referendum (from the school budget) to fix a whole range of issues, including the vents, windows, and leaks. These projects continue alongside beautification and are not diminished because of the campaign.

In the end, the changes brought about by beautification are a response to what students want. The process for starting a beautification project begins with a “wish list” that Dr. Gorman forumates in accordance with the requests of students, parents, teachers, and administrators. This list then goes to the HSA, the Alumni Association, or the Ed Foundation, which may then continue with the proposal or shoot it down. Dr. Gorman likened this process to a balancing act, saying, “We’re constantly trying to juggle different aspects.” This balance allows for development in many different areas of the school simultaneously.

As this development continues, there are many more things students hope to see in the future. 75% of respondents reported that they would like to see furniture improvements in classrooms. More specifically, a few survey respondents wrote that they would support the addition of better desks and interactive tables like those in the Economics room. Others called to repaint the stairway walls, improve the cafeteria, and “make basement smell better.” Hopefully, in a few years, many of these goals will be realized as RHS continues to modernize.

So you may not find yourself in the jungle in a few years, but you will find yourself in a school that is rapidly changing to accommodate new needs and desires. Though students have differing opinions on specific projects, most seem to agree that the effort as a whole is worthwhile.

Swathi Kella

Graphic: Evie Cullen

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