WENDELL • After the bell rang on the first day of school, a few students at Wendell Elementary School weren’t sure how to get to class.
They stood near giant windows in the school entryway and gazed down the long hallways. School employees quickly helped them find their new classrooms.
A new school year started up Tuesday with one major change — a new elementary school building.
“It’s a lot nicer,” parent Jillyn Johnson said, as she stood in the hallway outside a classroom. She has a child at each of Wendell’s three schools.
After finding places to park near the school, some parents stopped to snap pictures of their children in front of the new building.
Inside, students sat at new desks with still-shiny surfaces. Bulletin boards in the hallways were decorated with colorful animal cutouts displaying students’ names.
Tax dollars at work
The goal of a new elementary school building became a reality when Wendell voters passed a $9.8 million bond in 2010.
Last summer, construction crews broke ground on the approximately 60,000-square-foot facility.
During a community open house Sept. 13, community members will get a chance to see how their tax dollars were used.
“This is their building,” Superintendent Greg Lowe said, adding that he hopes many people will come to the event.
The new facility replaces the old elementary school, which was spread out in nine buildings — six portables and three brick buildings.
What’s next for the school?
Although most of the construction project is complete, there’s still work left to do.
Phase II of the project is in the works — constructing six more classrooms. The project didn’t begin until this summer after old school buildings were demolished in mid-June.
While most students are in the new building, there’s just one class of fourth-graders who started the year in an old building.
Lowe said Phase II of the project has a completion date around Thanksgiving break. After that, the 27-student fourth-grade class will move into one of the newest classrooms.
On Tuesday, exterior landscaping work around the school building — such as putting in a new sprinkler system — was in progress.
The school site also doesn’t have trees and shrubs yet, and there’s still work left to do on the playground.
Once Phase II of the project is completed, there will be extra classrooms and room to grow.
So far this school year, there are already more elementary school students than expected — especially, in first and fourth grades.
In first grade, there are about 125 children in five classes.
Lowe said district employees will “do what we need to do” to accommodate the larger number of students, such as possibly hiring another teacher.
For fourth grade, district administrators reduced a teaching position at the end of last school year based on projected enrollment. But since then, more students have enrolled.
Getting into the new building
Once construction wrapped up on the new elementary school, moving in was a time-consuming process.
Even though teachers’ contracts for the school year just started days ago, many set aside time starting Aug. 1 to set up their new classrooms.
“They spent a lot of their own time,” Lowe said.
The school district’s information technology workers also had a large project: Getting equipment up and running in the new building.
Each classroom has a projector, document camera, five student computers and one teacher computer.
There’s also a new feature in each classroom — an amplification system with speakers in the ceiling.
“Getting all that installed was tremendous,” Lowe said.