‘Bringing our community together’

Freedom Area Elementary School opens for 2015-2016 school year

Hannah Shumsky and Kayla Eaton

On Sept. 1, after years of discussion and over one year of construction, the Freedom Area School District marked the substantial completion of Freedom Area Elementary School by holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Big Knob and Conway Elementary, Freedom’s two former elementary schools, were in need of repair as well as updated electrical and mechanical systems. At Big Knob, specifically, there were sewage and well-water problems.
“It gets to the point where it’s like putting a Band-Aid on a wound,” Elementary Principal, Mr. Richard Edder said. On top of the structural issues at the previous two buildings, there was also a predicted gradual enrollment decline.
With all of the elementary school faculty and grade levels now in one building, they can now meet, communicate, plan, share materials and work together easier than in previous years.
“Having all of the classrooms together makes it much easier to balance class sizes [rather] than having only two or three classes of each grade at separate schools. Being consolidated also allows the teachers to be more creative in sharing resources, supporting each other and providing instruction to their students,” Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Fuller said.
The new school has 15 classrooms for grade levels kindergarten through second grade, including nine in the middle school’s lower wing set aside for third and fourth grade. These classrooms had been repainted and equipped with new Smart Boards. Each grade will have five teachers except for third grade, which has four teachers. According to Edder, the student-to-teacher ratio is approximately 21-1.
The school has a library, gym and title rooms as well as rooms for speech therapy and music.The art room is also located in the lower wing of the middle school near the Tech Ed room.
When entering the school, the first noticeable feature is the live Ficus tree in the lobby. The Ficus is planted in the first floor, reaching up to the second floor above the lobby.
“The design team wanted to organize the new school around a central element the same way the Freedom campus is organized around the great signature oak tree in the circle driveway. In school building design, we often look to make a strong connection to the outdoors for the students and staff. This is why you see the round lobby format as the school organizing feature with a live tree as the school’s interior public sense of identity and connection to the campus,” VEBH Architect Dan Engen said.
Throughout the hallways and rooms, there are flowers and nature scenes painted right on the floors and walls. Each classroom is painted a bright color with bright lighting including a monarch butterfly wing design on the door, tying the whole nature theme together.
“It’s all part of growth, and that’s the whole point. That’s sort of the theme: that you come here to grow, and part of that growth is, obviously, learning,” Edder said when explaining the design of the school.
Each classroom also has a view of the river or the rest of the campus, depending on the side of the building. The windows have been pushed out from the school complete with a wide ledge that students are able to sit on it.
“The classroom windows are specially designed with small children in mind. Each room has a picture window seat very low to the ground to afford a good view of the outdoors for small children,” Engen said.
Each kindergarten and first grade classroom has their own bathroom, but second grade and the cafeteria have their own specially-made bathroom. The sinks for the bathrooms are visible from the hallway, so the teachers can watch their students while they wash their hands.
For more functionality, a full-size gym was built with bleachers. There is also a projection screen built into the ceiling which can be lowered with a switch. The projector in the cafeteria casts the images onto the screen. Also in the cafeteria, low ceilings were designed to minimize echo and volume.
Outside, an addition of an outdoor classroom was put in if the teachers wish to take their students out for a lesson. Also outside, the recycled playground from Big Knob was added. Next to the playground, there is a cement area that students can use to play games. To enclose the area, a black aluminum fence was added.
To make the school kid-friendly, a few modifications were made to features that make school life easier for the students. The lockers, sinks and water fountains were built at a lower, more accessible level. To make transition from the first floor to the second floor easy, shorter steps were added, about three inches in height.
“It has been proven that natural light, views to the outdoors, reduced noise, fresh air, air-conditioned spaces and pleasing atmosphere and colors increase student performance. The school board has worked hard to ensure those key items have been included in the new Freedom Elementary School building,” Engen said.
As of Sept. 10, the costs of the building, which don’t include the costs for the architects, furniture, construction or other consultants, add up to $12 million. Fuller said that the project will be on or below the $14 million budget.
“I think [the school is] one of the coolest designs I’ve seen, and I also think the architect did a phenomenal job designing it without using expensive materials,” Project Manager Mr. Scott Smith, who has been building schools since 2002, said. “They were able to keep the cost at a very, very good cost range, but still give us what I think is a really cool-looking, interesting school for the kids.”
Before the building reaches 100 percent completion, other “punch-list” items need to be finished; these items include wooden walls, panels on the outside of the school, landscaping, cabinets and installation of the gym bleachers. The white panels were some of the materials stolen during construction and a new shipment was not expected until after the beginning of the school year; a brass strainer and landscaping were also stolen.
With the addition of the new school, all of the FASD schools are now on one campus. At the school’s ribbon-cutting ceremony and the first day of the school year, the faculty wore red shirts that said “bringing our community together,” meaning that the campus can now be expected to become a place for many future events, including October’s Homecoming festivities.
“I think what the community can expect is that a lot of community events and activities will start taking place on campus; I’ve seen a lot of families riding their bikes through and really starting to take advantage of the space we have here,” Fuller said.