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ERIAL- During her sophomore year, Thelma McCloskey navigated crowded corridors and played trumpet in the marching band at Highland Regional High School.
Come September, the 16-year-old will start her junior year at the new Timber Creek High School, where she will sail through gleaming, wide halls and play any instrument she wants to.
"I'm going to start the cello and the bassoon because of the availability of new instruments," said McCloskey, the band president.
Three years after voters approved it in a special election, the $38 million school, on Jarvis Road, is scheduled to open Sept. 10 for students from Gloucester Township's booming Sicklerville and Erial sections.
Having had cranes, pavers and delivery trucks become as much a part of their summer as heat waves and ice cream, a group of Timber Creek administrators said excited was a mild word to describe their feelings about moving into their new digs.
"The anticipation has been just keen," said Judi Schoettle, a history teacher and supervisor who sported a blue-and-silver Timber Creek Chargers shirt. "Parents, students, staff, everyone. We all can't wait for the year to start."
For many, the best part is the size of Timber Creek.
Unitl this year, the Black Horse Pike Regional School District -- composed of Gloucester Township, Bellmawr and Runnemede -- had two very crowded high schools: Triton and Highland. Both were on two shifts, and some students who geographically should have gone to Highland, which is in Gloucester Township's Blackwood section, had to go to Triton, which is in Runnemede.
Now the high schools will even out, and Timber Creek, which can hold 1,500 students, will start with 930 freshmen, sophomores, and juniors.
Because Highland's rising senior class opted to stay there for its final year in the district, Timber Creek won't get its first 12th graders until September 2002.
Still, the enrollment of 930 is well above the original projection of 834.
"We got a lot of reenrollments, students from parochial and private schools, this summer," said Ralph Ross, Timber Creek's principal.
That's fine with Clint Farrell, a math teacher and supervisor who joked that he had just one problem with his new workplace.
"You're going to need a golf cart to get around this school," he said as Frank Giunta rode a silver bicycle through the hallway as if on cue.
Giunta, Timber Creek's site supervisor, said zooming through gyms, classrooms, sprawling fields and parking lots was a lot preferable to walking the 68-acre campus. He has spent 16 months watching the school rise from a pile of dirt, and he acknowledged that he hadn't always been sure that the school would be ready in September.
"Honestly, we had our doubts, but it's going to be done," Giunta said.
Athletic director Rob Milavsky said things were going very well for the school. Despite some initial concerns about the size and competitiveness of Timber Creek teams, the school will field 20 varsity squads this school year, plus junior-varsity teams and a freshman football group.
Because fields are not ready, fall athletes will be bused after school to practice facilities around Gloucester Township.
But Milavsky said his students were more excited by the possibilities open to them than chagrined by the extra work. And, he added, he is too much in awe of the athletic facilities to think about the boxes he will be unpacking this week.
This gym is second to none," he said, treading lightly on the floor, polished to a high shine. "Seats 1,500. Has 14 separate basketball hoops."
Ross is equally proud of the business wing, which, he said, "looks more like a corporate center than a school."
Natural light pours in through skylights. Open spaces abound. There are 720 doors throughout the building, and three main entrances.
McCloskey, the band president, said some students had been hesitant at first to leave a familiar building to christen a new one.
"Everyone's excited," she said. "It's so beautiful, and there are opportunities everywhere."
That is just what Schoettle likes to hear.
"The school is the teachers, the students, the people," she said, and peered into the expansive library and media center. "But they sure have a nice vehicle to drive, don't they?"
By Kristin A. Graham
Philadelphia Inquirer, Monday, August 27, 2001
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