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An open house will give residents a chance to see the new structure and bid farewell to the old one.
KYLE GREEN | The Roanoke Times
Jesse Wyatt of Integrated Electrical Services welds a piece of heating pipe during work at the new South Salem Elementary School. The project is expected to cost $17 million and be ready for students this fall.
KYLE GREEN | The Roanoke Times
Construction workers walk through the gymnasium of the new South Salem Elementary School. The new school is being built behind the existing building, which was built in 1964.
Friday, April 12, 2013
Aging South Salem Elementary School sits feet from the construction of a replacement school, but the design of the two buildings couldn’t be further apart.
Built in 1964, the school was constructed as a fallout shelter, so it lacks natural light and has a curved shape that’s proved problematic. School officials said that shape was intended to deflect a nuclear blast. Space is also at a premium, and traffic can be an issue, too.
By comparison the new school, which will be completed in August, has more light and space, including a main entrance with windows that open up to a long corridor with a 25-foot-high ceiling.
Almost a year into construction, officials said the project is on time and budget. The $17 million project was approved by the school board a year ago and construction started in May.
Now walls, windows and the roof are up. The facility has taken shape. The community will have a chance to learn about the new school and say goodbye to the current building during an open house from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Residents and school board members favored a new facility since the building’s replacement cost exceeded the renovation cost by $1.2 million. Bonds are funding the majority of the project.
Officials said the most challenging aspect to the current school is its shape, something that will be remedied with the new school and its much different aesthetic.
“There’s no line of sight,” said Salem Superintendent Alan Seibert, who was principal at the school from 2004 to 2006.
Inside the school it’s impossible to see from one end of the hallway to the other.
Seibert recalled not being able to see kindergarten students as they walked in a line down the hall.
Because of the curved shape, the school’s classrooms are shaped like slices of pie and each has an exit door. In fact, the school has 50 exterior doors.
Seibert said one benefit of the current shape is the school can be evacuated quickly, but from a security standpoint it’s a problem. The school’s office is also set back from the entrance, creating an additional security concern.
In the new school, which will have fewer exit doors, the office is directly to the right of the main entrance.
The entrance, which opens up to the large corridor, has a suite of administrative offices to the right and cafeteria to the left. The cafeteria has a wall full of windows allowing for natural light.
Assistant Superintendent Mike Bryant said glass display cases will line part of the front corridor, and a screen will also digitally display the day’s announcements.
“This makes a statement,” he said, standing at the main entrance.
Down that main corridor off the left side is the media center, which will be connected to the computer lab. Also off the main hallway are classrooms for the school’s special education students to get physical and occupational therapy. The current building has no dedicated space for such services.
At the end of the corridor hallways to the left and right are classrooms and teacher workrooms. A staircase in the center leads to the ground floor and more classrooms, as well as art and music rooms.
The school also boasts a gym with 40-foot ceilings, and once completed it will have 300 bleacher seats. In addition, it will also have separate entry ways for students who are being dropped off by cars or buses, which the current building lacks.
While classes are set to begin in the new building in the fall, Bryant said not everything will be 100 percent complete. He said some additional items will need to be finished in the gym, though the work won’t disrupt classes.
The playing fields and parking lots, which will go where the current school sits, aren’t expected to be completed by August either.
Right now the new school is an active construction site separated from the current building by only a fence and few feet in some cases. Bryant said at times it’s been interesting working within such close range to students, staff and the neighborhood.
Even so, Principal Margaret Humphrey said she’s only gotten a single complaint, and that was last year. With a construction zone literally outside the schoolhouse doors, Humphrey said teachers and students have taken the situation in stride.
Humphrey, who taught at South Salem earlier in her career, said people are excited about the new building, but sentimental about the old one.
“We’ve had a lot of people that went to school here ask if they can come through and go through the building one more time,” she said. It will be torn down in June.
They’ll get that chance Sunday.
“It’s time for them to go through and reminisce,” Humphrey said.
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