Helen Thackston charter school officials have trouble hiding their excitement about their construction project.

After all, when the year-long $11 million project ends this summer, they will have twice as much space and upgrades of all sorts.

They are improvements Thackston officials had hoped would materialize in their first year in 2009. They will now be in place for its fifth year as a charter school.

"It's going to be a beautiful building," said principal Jamy Jackson, who has been there from the start. "We had to do it right. No matter how many setbacks we had ... it's exactly what we wanted."

The charter middle school for grades 5-9 is getting an extra 41,000 square feet to its existing building.

Thackston is operating this year at capacity with 500 students in its 28,000-square-foot building built in 1902.

More capacity: Some students have been taught at the YWCA to help keep up with space demands. The new capacity will be about 775 students.

The construction/renovation project involves modernizing the existing structure as well as adding to the facility and had been delayed by funding hold-ups and contract issues.

But now it's about halfway done, with substantial completion by mid-summer and everything on schedule, according to building and grounds manager Wendell Harper.

Charter schools are funded through taxpayer dollars but are operated independently. Thackston is run by for-profit Edison Learning, which also runs Lincoln Elementary in York City.

The new construction is being built adjacent to the 625 E. Philadelphia St. property. Once that's complete, the crew from York-based Stewart & Tate Construction will switch to the older side to minimize disruption.

Upgrades: Students can peer right into the new section through existing windows, which will eventually be covered.

Connections on all three floors will create a seamless flow, Harper said. And students are definitely ready, as they'll get modern, spacious classrooms, a computer lab, a library, and a gym/cafeteria that's about as big as their entire existing school.

"They wanted it done yesterday," Harper joked of the Thackston community.

For the adults, teachers will get a lounge, and parking is being added at 200 N. State St.

And for safety, a secure entrance is being built to funnel visitors through the office after being buzzed in, and cameras will be mounted around the school. A separate entry for student drop-off will keep students away from buses as well.

The school has a Homeland Security theme, so safety is both a priority and part of the school's model, Harper said.

One lane on East Philadelphia Street has been closed during the day because of construction, but that should be reopened within a few weeks.

Appeal pending: Who will actually be in the school this fall?

That's still up in the air. The charter school is in the midst of the appeals process with the state after its local application with York City School Board to add high school grades was denied.

If Thackston can't immediately add a high school, the additional classroom space will be taken by existing grades, Jackson said.

She wouldn't mind the renovations, either. Because of space constraints, her office has now become the entire school, she said with a laugh, as she doesn't have an office space right now.

She's hoping that beyond a better learning environment for students, the renovated and expanded school will be a better resource for the community to access.

"We're trying to be a part of the entire community," Jackson said.

For parents interested in enrollment, Jackson said they should visit the YWCA and ask for Thackston officials, as enrollment is being taken care at that site.

-- Reach Andrew Shaw at ashaw@yorkdispatch.com