GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (GRPS) — The major renovation project underway at Innovation Central High School is headed toward the home stretch as construction teams approach the halfway mark for the project.

Renovations at the building that houses both Innovation Central and Grand Rapids Montessori began last year. The multi-million-dollar project is updating the oldest functioning high school building in the state. Built in 1910, Central High School has a storied history. The list of well-known graduates includes Betty Ford, the former First Lady and wife of President Gerald R. Ford.

Construction teams are updating technology within the building, replacing lighting, updating the building's HVAC system, replacing windows and carpet, among other technological and structural improvements.

Scholars have already begun enjoying some of the improvements, with renovated classrooms returning to service and updated hallways reopening throughout the school year.

“It’s night and day. It’s almost a different school,” Innovation Central principal Dr. Jason McGhee said. “It’s been surreal.”

Dr. McGhee and the staff at the school have carefully navigated around the construction work while keeping the day-to-day teaching and learning moving as close to normally as possible.

“We’re in it, we’re living with it, we’re breathing with it and it’s going to be part of the story of Innovation Central and Central’s history,” McGhee said.

While scholars and many staff members will begin summer break after this week, the construction team working on the remodeling will go into overdrive.

Hundreds of contractors will work on the building over the summer utilizing the valuable timeframe where they have full access to the building without the limitations of navigating around the activity of the school day.

One of the most significant next steps will be the installation of a new heating system and the addition of air conditioning throughout the building.

“It’s going to look really nice when we come back in August,” McGhee said. “I absolutely believe that this is going to change the culture one step at a time.”

Dr. McGhee says he is hopeful that the building inspires improved scholar achievement.

“Now I’m moving from being a student to being a scholar because the environment also says so. It says so in the bathroom, it says so in the hallways. It says it in the classrooms - not just from the adults saying that they’re scholars but the environment compliments that,” McGhee said with excitement.  “They see the changes. They’re able to see it as its happening…They’re excited about it. They want to see what’s to come.”

Rockford Construction is overseeing the massive project which is expected to be completed in the early part of 2024.

"When the dust is clear, and the building is new and it smells great, it looks great, and we can say, 'We are Innovation Central, it’s 2024.' Let's go! Bring your families here, bring your students here, bring your scholars here, and let's learn together in an innovative way,” McGhee said.

The construction project was funded using bond dollars from a millage passed by Grand Rapids voters. GRPS is hopeful to do more work like it within other school buildings with plans underway to ask voters to pass a bond measure. The proposed initiative would represent approximately $305 million in investments into GRPS school buildings without raising taxes.

Dr. McGhee says the investment shows the scholars how important their education is to the Grand Rapids community.

“I hope they feel like they have a place that's theirs - a place where the environment supports the innovation that we’re creating here,” McGhee said. “[The project says] we care about you, we love you, we support you, and we want you to be your best!”