Freshmen won't be the only students getting lost at Lincoln and Fels High Schools in Northeast Philadelphia today.

Pupils at both schools will start school in new buildings, and it may take a few weeks for even seniors to grow accustomed to new hallways and features.

All city school district students are to return to school today.

The two new buildings were a long time coming for Lincoln - an $84.5 million structure adjacent to the old building at 3201 Ryan Ave. - and Fels - an $80.1 million building at 5500 Langdon St., a few blocks from the old school.

The old Lincoln, built in 1949, "had $80 million worth of problems," said Patrick Henwood, who leads the district's Office of Capital Programs. Fels had been a junior high for years and was converted to a high school in the 1990s, though its building was never suited to the purpose.

Lincoln's old building is to be torn down eventually. Fels' former home will be used to accommodate the seventh and eighth graders at nearby Carnell Elementary, which has long been overcrowded.

The new structures - designed by different architects - should be marked improvements over the old buildings, Henwood said.

Fels, in Oxford Circle, has 38 regular classrooms, 36 specialty classrooms, and a full-size swimming pool. Lincoln, in Mayfair, has 42 regular and 36 specialty rooms, including two gyms.

Both are two-story buildings of brick, glass and steel, with about 270,000 square feet each. Fels' community spaces - the library, the cafeteria - feel "grand," Henwood said, big and airy. Lincoln's showpiece may be its athletic suite.

"The gyms were very important to this project," said Henwood, gesturing to the high rafters in the main gym, which he said could be the city's largest. Lincoln also has an auxiliary gym.

Community groups in both neighborhoods will be able to use the schools, Henwood said.

The average district building is about 70 years old, so some of the basics in the new places feel luxurious. Windows open easily. Every classroom has smartboards - instead of blackboards, whiteboards that let teachers project information from a computer onto the large screen. Kitchens are huge and well-equipped. Desks have no graffiti.

Donald Anticoli, the second-year principal of Lincoln, could hardly contain his enthusiasm last week.

Students, he promised, "will be in awe of the sheer beauty. It's just overwhelming. I think it's great for them to have this opportunity."

At Fels, new physical education and aquatics teacher George Everton took a tour of the six-lane, 12-foot pool with Bettyann Creighton, the district's director of health, safety, and physical education.

Every Fels student will take his aquatics class, he said proudly.

"The most important thing is going to be water safety," Everton said. "We're going to do a comprehensive program - even canoeing, fishing, crabbing."

Everton, a 30-year district veteran, said he had never worked in a new building.

"It's a beautiful facility," he said. "It's a dream come true."

Last week, crews were feverishly cleaning, painting, unpacking boxes, patching walls, sealing floors, and installing plates on rows and rows of new lockers at both schools.

Finishing two large high schools at once was a challenge, Henwood said.

"We'll be sneaking out the back door when the kids are coming in the front door," he joked.

The new Fels and Lincoln are among the final projects in a $1.5 billion capital campaign, the largest in the district's history and a legacy of former schools chief Paul Vallas.

One more comprehensive high school is in the works. West Philadelphia High is slated to get a new facility in 2011. Also under way are a new Kensington Creative and Performing Arts High School and a new Willard Elementary, in Kensington.

The district has yet to unveil its next capital campaign.

Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146 or kgraham@phillynews.com.