Consolidation has been the talk of the town in Fayette County for the last couple years — and now the talk is becoming reality as one new school is set to open its doors to students at the start of this school year.
Beginning Monday, Aug. 26, students in the county will head back to school, but some will be attending a building that houses two new schools — New River Primary Elementary School and Oak Hill Middle School.
New River Primary will house students who previously attended New River, Rosedale and Mount Hope elementary schools, and Oak Hill Middle, which will serve as a new and improved version of Collins Middle School, will serve students in Grades 6 to 8 and will also accept students going into middle school from New River Elementary School.
New River Elementary School will now be dubbed New River Intermediate Elementary School and will serve students in Grades 3 to 5.
Fayette County Superintendent Terry George and other Fayette County Schools staff gave The Register-Herald a personal tour Friday of the new schools, in which he said crew workers have been working around the clock to get ready in time for school to start.
"Major construction is finished; we're just finishing up the punch work," George said. "We just have the final touches to finish up."
A small utility hallway housing HVAC systems and plumbing is what separates the two new schools, which both offer up-to-date hallway and classroom designs, gymnasiums, cafeterias and library media centers.
At the entrance of both schools, cloud-like structures are mounted near the ceiling. The "clouds," as George called them, are not only inviting for those who visit the school, but they also serve a purpose.
"They control the acoustics and sound level of all the noise," George explained. "So they look nice while also serving a purpose."
Within the hallways and classrooms of both schools, one might notice the open ceiling concept. George said this was to give the feeling of a more inviting, open space.
"It's a totally new design for our schools," he said.
Both schools have separate entrances that George dubbed "safe school entrances." The public is not able to walk into the main entrance under any circumstances, and they must enter through the front office door, which will then lead them into the school.
There are two gymnasiums within the building, one for each school. For New River Primary, a smaller gymnasium has bright colors painted on the floor.
The gymnasium also offers a special type of flooring, a nonslick design so the younger students do not get hurt.
"It's also a floor that never has to be resealed," George explained.
The gymnasium in Oak Hill Middle School has yet to have its bleachers installed, but George assured media once workers finish up the flooring, the bleachers will be installed before students arrive.
The gymnasium also has a boys and girls locker room, along with offices for P.E. teachers and coaches.
For New River Primary, long rectangular tables and bright colors fill the room.
The seats of each table have an array of multiple colors, and those same colors are painted on the walls. On the ceiling is more of the "cloud design."
"We knew the children would be talking a lot in the cafeteria and it will often get loud," George said. "So not only do they look nice and inviting to the kids, they serve a purpose. The same goes for the colorful color scheme."
For Oak Hill Middle, the cafeteria will be "multifunctional," said Cynthia Hedrick, the school's principal.
"On one wall we have a screen that can come down for projections, so we can also host meetings, parent-teacher conferences, things like that in this room as well," she said.
Panels to control the acoustics are also on the ceilings in the cafeteria, and instead of long tables like the elementary school, the tables are circular.
"We want the kids to be able to communicate and converse with their friends while eating lunch," Hedrick said.
Library Media Center
Both New River Primary and Oak Hill Middle School house library media centers, each specifically designed for the students they will serve.
At the center in New River Primary, houses are perched over the entryway. George said this was to give the feeling to students they were at home.
In the middle of the room, a round circulation desk stands. George said, "It's in the center to keep eyes on students at all times from all angles."
"It's the 21st century, and things are different now. We don't put teachers in corners anymore," he said, laughing.
Within the library media center in Oak Hill Middle School, a corner is completely done in wood paneling. Hedrick said that was her favorite part of the whole room.
"It's just nice to look at and very inviting," she said. "We're very excited about this room. This is an opportunity for our kids to come in and just sit, talk or read. Just a place for them to let their mind go."
The classrooms in both schools are specifically designed for the grade level.
"The tables in both the lower level school and the desks in the middle school roll," George explained. "That way they can work together or separately when necessary.
"We don't put students in rows anymore; learning and teaching styles have changed," he said. "A lot of thought went into this."
Each classroom also offers an emergency phone and motion sensor lighting.
New River Primary has a sensory room for special education students.
"Sometimes those students just need a room to go into and relax, and now they have that here," George said. "They didn't have that at their other school."
Oak Hill Middle School now offers a fully-equipped science room for its students, with high top tables and all the gear they'll need for science experiments.
However, just a bit farther down the hallway, there is also a STEM/STEAM room for the students to take part in activities involving Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics, something they didn't have at any previous school they attended.
"This is a room we are really excited about," Hedrick said. "We have three new 3D printers the students will get to use for various projects, and will be something completely new to them."
George assures that the schools will be open just in time for school to start and believes the students who attend both will benefit highly from them.
"These are high-tech new schools," he shared. "We've put a lot of thought, hard work, and effort into this. We believe these schools will prepare and train students for careers that don't even exist yet."
— Email: email@example.com; follow on Twitter @jnelsonRH