BELTON — When Gwyneth Sachsenmaier was a freshman, she felt Belton High School’s orchestra program was disconnected.

Students practiced at BHS’s ninth grade center. They had to lug their equipment over to the campus.

“I remember my first day of my freshman year, getting lost and trying to find my classes and seeing it was called a band hall,” the now senior said. “Regardless, we still enjoyed our experience in that hall.”

Four years later, the orchestra program is now housed in a just-completed, $1.8-million, 3,200-square-foot addition at Belton High School, 600 Lake Road. Construction started in summer 2019 and was wrapped up in October.

“This new addition has truly benefited us so much,” Gwy-neth said. “We have more soundproof walls in our practice rooms, and we can actually rehearse multiple things at once rather than having a small group of 10 people in a very tight space. It’s truly amazing.”

The Belton school board unanimously agreed Monday to close out the project, accept it and release the final payment of $120,213 to Built Wright Construction, which built the addition and new entrance at the high school.

“What is special about this is it’s really providing them with a true home in Belton High School,” Principal Ben Smith said. “The floating back and forth from the (ninth grade center), carrying the instruments — that was an ordeal for our kiddos. This was a great opportunity to provide them with a place that they can be proud of and they can feel connected to.”

Giving the orchestra program a home was the goal for Jarrod Sterzinger, an architect with O’Connell Robertson Architects, the Austin-based firm that designed the project.

“Really with the transition for Lake Belton, Belton High School and the (ninth grade center) going back to Belton Middle School, we knew that we had to support the orchestra program moving forward,” Sterzinger said. “This really gave the orchestra a new home with a rehearsal hall, practice hall, section rooms, flexibility with the other fine art programs there in the area adjacent to the band hall.”

Mike Morgan, assistant superintendent of operations, said orchestra is one of the district’s strongest and fastest growing programs.

When John Fairlie, the orchestra director, joined the district in 2012, the program had 26 members. Now, that number has grown beyond 250 students, Smith said.

“It’s a beautiful facility and we know it’s going to serve the students of BISD for decades to come,” Morgan said. “At the end of the day, we feel like we’ve got an exceptional facility that’s going to facilitate great growth and a great product coming out of our orchestra.”

Senior Julie Johnson is an example of that. She said she has learned skills she will use for the rest of her life.

“It has truly taught me the importance of team building and how to work as a team,” Julie said. “The skills I’ve learned from orchestra have come to me and now I can pass them onto my students and they can pass them onto others. It is just a beautiful thing I’ve got to experience because of the opportunities y’all have given us to participate in orchestra.”