NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Two elementary schools in New Hanover County are opening months ahead of time to accommodate students.
Construction on the new Blair and College Park Elementary schools started in 2017. Both schools, built in the 1960s and 1970s, were demolished, with new buildings taking their places.
Monday, April 22, Blair Elementary opened its doors to Wrightsville Beach Elementary, which is currently under renovations.
“There’s been a lot of preparation and we had a lot we had a lot of celebration. Kids love it. Teachers love it. Feels like we’ve been here for a while already," says Wrightsville Beach Principal Jackson Norvell.
The students will be at Blair Elementary for the rest of this school year and all of the next school year. There are 16 classrooms being used, but the school is big enough for more than double the amount of students in it.
According to Leanne Lawrence, the director of facility planning and construction for New Hanover County Schools, students moved back into the new schools by Monday. Originally, both were set to open in the fall.
Lawrence said construction moved faster than expected. Also, with other projects planned for schools across the county, she said the new spaces were needed for students.
There was also a push to get students back into College Park, she said, because they were displaced again after Hurricane Florence. They were displaced at the beginning of the school year because of the construction, and moved to a space on Sidbury Road.
Florence destroyed that building, so they were moved again. Students were split between Castle Hayne Elementary and Holly Shelter Middle School. The lower grades from College Park were then moved to Castle Hayne, and the fifth graders from Castle Hayne and College Park were moved to Holly Shelter to make that an upper grade school.
On Monday, the College Park students moved into their brand new school.
“There’s probably not a school in this district that is more ready to be here and in their home," Lawrence said. “If you’re displaced from your home, you want nothing more than to be in your home, and not living in boxes and it’s your final destination, so we are excited to welcome them to their campus and I think they’re even more excited to come to their new home.”
Blair students were moved to a space on Edgewater Club Road during the construction of their school. Those students, however, won’t be moving into their new school until the fall of 2020.
Students from Wrightsville Beach Elementary School moved into the new Blair on Monday while major renovations are done at their school. That construction is set to wrap up by the end of next school year.
“It’s kind of like putting the puzzle pieces together,” Lawrence said about shifting students around during construction.
By the fall of 2020, all students from each school will be back at their respective schools, she said. Then redistricting for the elementary schools will take place.
In addition to Blair and College Park being older schools, Lawrence said those elementary schools were targeted for rebuilds due to safety. Both schools had a number of access points in and out of the school, and students had to walk outside to get to some classes.
Now, everything is under one roof.
“Obviously, school safety is a significant issue and you see the devastating headlines all the time, unfortunately all too often. Controlling access to the campus is key," she said. “Whenever someone visits the campus, we want them to come straight in the front door. We don’t want folks coming in the side doors. We don’t want folks coming in around the back.”
At both schools, when someone gets to the front door, they have to hit a button and someone in the main office can hear and see the person at the door. The person in the office makes a judgement call, Lawrence said, whether or not to let them in. Then, if allowed, they are let into the main office and they are screened again and buzzed into the actual school.
The new Blair school is 85,800 square feet. It has 27 classrooms and 11 support resource rooms that can be made into classrooms. According to Lawrence, the budget was $15 million and it is modeled after Snipes Academy in Wilmington. It also features an auditorium that seats 400 people. According to Lawrence, it is one of the most energy efficient buildings as part of the New Hanover County School system.
The new College Park school is modeled after Castle Hayne Elementary School. It’s about 80,000 square feet. The budget was $13.8. Its mascot is an owl, so the design features a lot of nature elements like a mosaic of a sun on the floor in the hallway.
Each new school can house about 600 students, slightly more than the previous schools. The schools will also use touchscreen, smart technology as well.
Both schools were paid for by a schools bond approved by voters in 2014.