By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — The holiday season has passed, and a New Year has arrived, 2020. The new year is also the start of a new decade, and a change for everyone with a New Year’s Resolution. For students at Newkirk Elementary School (NES), Jan. 6 was yet another change, the opening of the Early Childhood Center (ECC), a long-awaited project to add much-needed space to the facility, and the first year in more than 10 years that the fifth graders are back in their own classrooms.
Four fifth graders are sitting in the school office that afternoon, bubbling over with excitement on how it feels to be back in the building. They originally planned to be back at the start of the school year, in August 2019.
“I like being back in the elementary,” Lora Horinek said. “I like being in our room, it is nice and big, and we have desks instead of tables.”
It is also excited for pre-k and kindergarten students, who moved into the new classrooms during Christmas Break.
“We had classes in the building the last Friday before Christmas,” said pre-k teacher Cindy Collyar. “It is great. The kids love it, they were so excited.”
The ECC opened to provide more space for the school. It contains four new classrooms, two each for pre-k and kindergarten, a new library and computer lab, which also double as a saferoom secure entrances, music room and restroom facilities. The ECC connects with the NES on the southeast end, near the playground.
The project was more than 10 years in the making, as the school had long seen enrollment increases in the building, which couldn’t handle the growth, forcing some classes to combine.
“Some of our teachers had to double-up, because we had run out of room, and now, we have a space to grow,” said NES Principal Pam Hunter.
To cope with the lack of space, the fifth grade classes moved to Newkirk Middle School (NMS) although they continued to use the NES cafeteria and playground during the day.
“The fifth grade came back to us. It’s been 10 years since they’ve been at the Middle School,” Hunter said.
The ECC was included in a larger project that included a new roof for NMS, a remodel of NES, new school buses and a new gymnasium attached to the Newkirk High School.
The project was initiated by a grant from the Federal emergency Management Agency (FEMA), obtained to put in a new safe room at NES. Newkirk Public Schools (NPS) also successfully passed a bond for extra funding, and with the help of one of the wind farms, they were able to raise about $10.475 million for the project.
“The wind farm helps with our tax base, which allows us to do more things like that,” said NPS Superintendent Brady Bar5nes. “It’s allowed us to not put such a burden on the taxpayers.”
The project broke ground in October 2017, starting with construction of the NMS gym. The ECC began construction May 2018, at a cost of about $2 million. All work was conducted by Atlas Construction.
The initial plans were for the ECC to open in time for the 2019-2020 school year in August, with the fifth graders being back the building the first day. The project saw several setbacks, however, including heavy spring rains, which made it difficult to do groundwork in the muddy conditions, and the opening was also delayed by Atlas Construction filing for bankruptcy. The opening was finally pushed back to December.
NPS administration is happy with the community support of the project.
“It’s a blessing to oud kids, to let them have the opportunities the building provides them,” Barnes said.
Safety was as big factor in the need for a new building. It was the saferoom after all, that led to the initial FEMA grant. The saferoom encompasses the new library, along with a computer lab that has 24 new computers and stations. It also offers a new bathroom inside the library, and the saferoom is designed not just for inclement weather, but it also can be securely closed if an active shooter scenario arise. It is large enough to accommodate 400, people, enough for all NES students and staff.
There is also secure exit to the playground.
“Our school is so much safer now, in a multitude of ways,” Hunter said.
The Library and new classrooms aren’t the only new learning opportunities in the new building, as it also contains a room dedicated to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts, which will greatly aid in NASA activities.
The first official day went well, although the teachers had their concerns on how well the transition would be.
“The kids came back, ready to learn,” Collyar said. “It’s made them more excited.”
It is the words of the students themselves, about the transition, that speak the greatest, especially those in the fifth grade, who are happy to be the first class back in the building in a decade.
“I like being back in the elementary school because it is easier to have lunch, and we don’t have to go back and forth, and we get to have new desks,” Emily Garrison said.
Halleigh Cortney said, “I like being in the elementary better, because it’s easier to get between class,” adding that it’s still hard in some ways, as they still have to go to NMS for music and physical education.
Nicole Free was torn between the schools.
“I like the middle school better, because I get to see my cousin on the way to music, but I like the elementary, too.”