NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Families, community partners, retired teachers, alumni, and community members gathered at the new College Park Elementary School for a ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony Friday.
“This is an indescribable moment. This is a moment of resilience not only for me but for the entire College Park family,” said principal Dr. Maria Madison.
The original College Park Elementary school was built in 1964. Before construction on the new school got underway, students relocated to a nearby church.
That church was severely damaged during Hurricane Florence and students and teachers were forced to again relocate, splitting up between Castle Hayne Elementary and Holly Shelter Middle schools.
“It was a huge challenge. As a principal, I’m always supposed to wear that smile. I’m always supposed to be the one that supports and bear the burden of everyone. So bearing the burden of over 600 people, it was a task, but we did it, we did it all together,” Madison said.
The fifth graders at College Park have been in four different buildings throughout their elementary school experience. For the kindergartners, this brand-new, state-of-the-art building will be all they ever know.
“It is home for us because the journey and getting here is so sentimental. The task of knowing and watching some of your things being lost and destroyed and then building from the ground up, it’s just a great feeling,” Madison said.
During the process of relocating and enduring all the struggles Florence brought, Madison had all staff pick a word to hold onto when things got difficult. Those words now make up a painting of an owl, College Park Elementary’s mascot, hung in the front office.
“We tucked a special word in our heart and I hope you can see that owl in the office before you leave. And my word in the middle is resilience. So every staff member had a word they tucked deeply in their heart to help us remember their journey,” Madison said.
The resiliency paid off. The project was completed ahead of schedule and under budget.
The building cost $16 million and includes 25 classrooms, five small group areas, three special education classrooms, and an outdoor classroom.
The school is filled with vibrant colors to stimulate learning. The media center has movable furniture, white board desks, and comfortable spaces for students to learn.
The school also boasts increased safety and security measures.
“I am just so grateful to be the one that was chosen to take this journey and I’ve loved every minute of it,” Madison said.