PENDLETON — Pendleton Heights Middle School eighth-grader Jess Tackett likes her newly built school building better than South Madison Community School Corp.’s old middle school if for only one reason.

“It smells a lot better,” she said. “The old one was moldy.”

As Tackett and other eighth-graders spent lunch period in the new school’s cafeteria, some students ate in the outdoor eating area while others went through one of three cafeteria lines.

Most seemed happy with their new school’s features and space, and Tackett said the bigger hallways and more spread out school made it easier to get to class and allowed students to be more comfortable.

Eighth-grader Kailey McClimon said the new school allowed a good start to the school year on Tuesday.

“It just puts you in a good mood,” she said.

The South Madison school district built the middle school after overcrowding occurred in the old middle school, which now is an intermediate school near Pendleton Elementary School. The new middle school was first open for classes on Tuesday.

“So far it’s really nice,” eighth-grader Tabitha Franklin said. “You can sit down (in the cafeteria) where you want. Since people have the freedom to do what they want, they’re not so disruptive.”

Pendleton Heights Middle School principal Dan Joyce said the 175,875-square-foot building had many features the old middle school lacked, including better security with cameras and locked-down doors, better athletic facilities and specially lit art rooms with outside access.

The new school boasts more computer labs and science classrooms that are set up like labs.

“There’s a lot of technology within the classrooms that the teachers have at their disposal,” Joyce said.

One of the most important features of the school, Joyce said, is the space it allows for the 672 students who attended classes Tuesday.

“We have empty classrooms in this building,” he said. “The idea was to build it so if the community continues to grow, we will have the space.”

The first day of school went well for the South Madison middle schoolers, Joyce said.

“I’m not really surprised,” he said. “I’ve got a great staff and pretty responsible students. Any first day of middle school is intimidating. By the end of this week, they’ll be fine.”

Joyce’s ultimate goal — along with the rest of the staff and faculty in South Madison schools — is to have 90 percent of the students passing ISTEP+.

“I really hope that some of the new tools in (teachers’) hands will assist all of us,” he said.

With a new, larger school, eighth-grader Bailey Strock’s goal for the year is simpler.

“Not to get lost,” she said.

Contact Aleasha Sandley: 640-4805,

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