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Students at Virginia Heights and Garden City elementaries will see improvements as they go back to school next week.
REBECCA BARNETT | The Roanoke Times
Construction continues at Virginia Heights Elementary School in Roanoke.
Monday, August 12, 2013
The mobile units that sat outside Virginia Heights Elementary School for years are gone. In their place is a construction zone.
The school’s parking lot is crammed with building materials and pickup trucks. Nearby, a crane towers close to the school and its playground.
When students return to classes next week they’ll be greeted by a new art room, multipurpose room, library, courtyard and classrooms. The added space will alleviate crowding and give the school, parts of which date back to 1920s, a face-lift.
Virginia Heights is Roanoke’s most extensive, but not its only, summertime project.
Garden City Elementary School classrooms were updated. A new cafeteria floor and addition were installed, as well as a new roof and floor added in the gym. At Round Hill Elementary School, some capital work was delayed this summer because of the budget, but site work preparing for next summer’s work was done. The school’s playground was also relocated to make way for a new membrane gymnasium.
Like many school systems, Roanoke typically tackles capital improvements in the summer months, when they won’t disturb classes.
But this year’s projects were larger in scope than what was done last summer. With staff returning to school today, projects are finishing up and officials expect almost everything to be ready for the first day.
“This one I suspect won’t make the 19th, but it won’t be far behind,” Deputy Superintendent Curt Baker said, standing in the new multipurpose room at Virginia Heights.
Last week the room lacked windows, finish on the concrete walls, electrical outlets, and a floor. But Baker said finishing up will not create problems for students and staff.
“We’re fine to open with this not quite ready,” he said.
The room’s large windows will overlook the Grandin Village neighborhood and a new courtyard that’s been created behind the school. The school’s relocated library, which sits in the space of the former multipurpose room, also overlooks the courtyard through a wall of windows.
“It will bring a huge amount of natural light in,” Baker said. “This room will be really cool.”
Down a corridor, away from the multipurpose room and library, and near the school’s front entrance, a sign pointing to the school’s front office shepherds visitors through the rest of the dusty construction zone.
At this end of the school, two new classrooms overlook the site where the mobile units were. Also on this side of the building, three classrooms and an art room were added. They are mostly finished.
The new rooms will add much-needed space for the school’s 360 students.
“I think the space is a big component of your overall environment of a school. When you have space for people to go it builds more of a community,” Principal Linda Butts said.
She said the mobile units the school had in place for so long physically disconnected people from the building. But when school opens, everyone will be under one roof.
“It allows for a more cohesive school,” she said.
While the $2.5 million project has been under way, Butts has spent the summer working from another area school. At the end of the school year staffers packed up their things and loaded them into trailers.
Butts said the items are starting to be trucked back and she anticipates being able to get into the school next week. Teachers report today.
“It’s going to be a lot of work next week,” she said. “We’re going to get it done.”
Butts said parents shouldn’t notice anything different when they arrive at school. She said outside will be the same with drop-offs in the same area. It’s when visitors enter the building they’ll notice changes.
Across town at Garden City, the pace of work is a little slower. The classrooms are completed and the smell of fresh paint is in the hallways. Last week workers were painting the gym and installing all new kitchen equipment.
The gym is also taking a bit longer than expected. The humid weather has delayed laying the floor, Baker said. But as with Virginia Heights, officials do not anticipate that work interfering with school.
For Principal Rebecah Smith, the $1 million project will make lunchtime at the school easier, and teachers are thrilled with the classroom updates.
The school’s walk-in freezer was taking up space in the cafeteria, but a new freezer will now be located in the kitchen area, freeing up space. There will also be more storage space and cafeteria tables that can fold up, making room for assemblies or gatherings held in the room.
The classroom updates have done away with dingy walls and green, slate chalk boards, replacing them with freshly painted rooms with white boards and new cabinets.
“A few had sneak peeks yesterday, and they are very excited,” Smith said of the school’s teachers.
She said parents and community members will be pleased at the progress. The school system plans to hold open houses at both schools after school begins, which will be open not only to parents and students, but to the neighborhoods as well.
“We’re just definitely excited,” Smith said.
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