As Jason McGhee lead a visitor through Innovation Central High School's immense renovation project last fall, the joy on his face was evident.

In each new area of construction, the school’s principal excitedly points out what was and what will be: the old main office becoming classrooms, new air handling systems replacing outdated boilers, old and inefficient lights that down the road will be swapped with better, more energy efficient options.

“It’s a mess right now,” he said. “But when it’s done it’s going to be great.”

And, McGhee added, he and his staff and scholars are learning to live through the renovations, not just surviving but thriving.

“It’s going to be a year or more yet before it’s done,” he said. “So, we need to continue with the work even as this construction work happens all around us.”

Similar major renovations have happened at Ottawa Hills High School and Union High School. Now it’s Innovation Central’s turn.

Alex Smart is the Executive Director of Facilities and Operations for GRPS. He said Innovation Central (founded in its current location in 1911 as Central High School) was due for some TLC. That includes not just on the exterior, where signs of distress were clear, but also in the systems highlighted by McGhee.

“As a result, a big part of this project is focusing on masonry restoration, windows and a complete HVAC system upgrade,” he said.

Because of the building’s historic context, GRPS hired Lott3Metz and Kingscott architects to make sure the historical language of the renovation was in line with the historic guidelines set by the city, Smart said.

“The City Historic Preservation Commission and the Heritage Hills Association have specific guidelines and regulations governing historic renovation projects,” he added. “This works meets those requirements.”

Indeed, the new windows will bring the building closer to its original appearance, Smart said, both in terms of their size and their design. They’ll be an eye-catching part of the exterior’s new appeal. But Smart also is excited about the ability to properly ventilate, heat and cool the spaces in the building.

All those elements should benefit the school’s scholars and teachers, Smart said.

“Certainly, this renovation will give our scholars and teachers a significant improvement in ventilation which is great,” he said. “They also should benefit from improved temperature control systems in the building, from some of the lighting improvements, technology upgrades in the classroom, the new windows and much more.”

In addition, the project was designed to obtain LEED certification, and Smart said it’s on track to getting that certification at the completion of the project. Significant reduction in energy consumption, more energy-efficient windows and HVAC efficiency improvements all will contribute to LEED certification. And, Smart said, some 430 tons of debris was removed from the site with 60 percent of that having been recycled.

Rockford Construction is heading up the project, and project manager Steve Orlando said in the first 200 days of work, more than 100,000 hours had been put into the job with an average crew side of 67 tradespeople, including a peak in summer 2022 of 166 tradespeople on the site. That includes people on the mechanical contracting side of things, drywallers, electricians and a large crew in charge of demolition.

The project has also dealt with significant supply chain issues, including almost a year on a generator, more than a year on transformers, and half a year on everything from windows to wood doors. With such significant delays on the electrical side, the new primary electrical service upgrade was pushed to the summer of 2023 instead of the summer of 2022, but careful planning and collaboration between GRPS, Rockford, the electrical engineer, and the electrical contractor made it all work.

“Rockford has done a great job being creative with their workarounds,” Smart said.

The project began in the spring of 2022 and is expected to be completed by January 2024.


Some interesting project facts and figures from Rockford Construction:

  • 30 tons of steel, including 500 plus separate pieces of steel, and 1,600 bolts
  • 35,777 lineal feet of heating/cooling pipe and insulation – just shy of seven miles of pipe
  • 174,000 pounds of ductwork – roughly the weight of 43 cars … or the space shuttle
  • 14,700 feet of new ductwork – the height of 10 Empire State buildings or nearly three miles of ductwork!
  • 84 new pieces of Mechanical equipment installed.
  • 400 windows replaced, increasing the amount of daylight in the classrooms by 7,600 square feet (roughly 19 square feet per window)
  • 11,000 feet of caulk for the windows