The crowds peered into spacious new classrooms, gawked at the hallways lined with shiny red lockers and excitedly snapped pictures with their cellphones.
As they wandered the new Groveport Madison High School for the first time at a dedication and open house Aug. 29, alumni poked fun, joking about how much they envied those who will learn in the state-of-the-art facility.
Some students, overwhelmed by the 240,000-square-foot building, figured out how to navigate its sprawling halls without getting lost.
"It's beyond amazing," said alumna Misty Clark, 38, whose son is entering his sophomore year.
"It makes you want to come back to school, just to say you went here."
Last week's dedication ceremony, a gathering of hundreds of people, was a celebration decades in the making for the Groveport Madison school district.
It's been about 50 years since the district got a new school building. The clocks in its 1,500-seat competition gymnasium were stuck at 20:18 to mark the occasion, while a pep band played and students cheered.
"I hope you're proud of what we as a community have accomplished together," Superintendent Garilee Ogden said.
The new Groveport Madison High School, located behind the 52-year-old school it replaces at 4475 S. Hamilton Road in Groveport, cost about $60 million and took about two years to build.
Because the old high school is still being demolished, all students enjoyed an extended summer vacation this year. Typically, the district's classes start in mid-August.
This year, school started Sept. 4, the day after Labor Day.
According to information from the district, the new building is outfitted with modern safety and security features, including cameras, central locking doors and vestibules with two-way communication. It's fully air-conditioned and energy-efficient, boasting 52 modern classrooms and plenty of flexible and specialized learning areas, including labs and music and art rooms.
The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, a state agency that assists school districts with construction projects, funded 53 percent of the building's base cost, or $28.1 million. The school district paid for 47 percent, or $24.9 million, using funds from a bond issue voters approved in 2014.
The district also chipped in $8 million for "locally funded initiatives," or extra building features that weren't covered by the OFCC, such as auditoriums, athletics facilities and larger classrooms.
The building can handle a maximum of 1,500 students, which is the district's current enrollment, based on Ohio Department of Education data.
The old high school, meanwhile, was built to house only 900 or so students. The building was worn and outdated, with sewer pipes that backed up frequently and undependable water lines, district spokesman Jeff Warner said.
But those concerns are now a thing of the past.
Junior Makhaya McBroom, 15, said she's happy she and other students will have spacious classrooms and common areas to study in. She toured an art room Aug. 29 outfitted with pottery wheels and large tables with plenty of space for projects.
McBroom said she is also happy she won't have to question whether the biology lab's sinks will have clean water -- a problem she confronted in the old high school.
"I'm so excited," McBroom said. "I can't wait for school to start."