- By Parker Perry Staff Writer
Urbana students will walk into a new $37 million elementary and junior high building this week.
The district will open the building on U.S. 68 between Campground Road and Pearce Place across the street from the Champaign County Community Building Tuesday. It’s the second building the district has opened in a year. It opened the new high school building in April.
The two projects cost a combined $68 million and are the result of taxpayers passing a $31 million bond issue in November 2014.
“The community stepped up,” Urbana Superintendent Charles Thiel said. “Thirty-one million dollars over 28 years is the term of the bond. We wanted to be good stewards of the money, good stewards of the design of the buildings. We wanted to get quality as we went through the projects. Having the ability to collaborate and not have some of the physical barriers I believe it is going to be beneficial for the kids.”
Urbana previously had been operating in some of the oldest school buildings in Ohio, with some parts of the old high school more than 100 years old.
Elementary school teachers gathered in their classroom pods last week to get ready for the new school and were amazed at the difference between what they had now and what they were working with before.
“It really feels like a science room now,” fifth-grade science teacher Traci Pine said of her room. “It has plenty of sinks and cabinet space and the tables are workable tables instead of a desk. It’s more of a science lab feel so it’s going to really work well.”
She said before students suffered because there wasn’t enough space to do projects or collaborate with other classrooms.
Urbana is a historical city with proud traditions, Thiel said, but he believes students, parents and teachers are ready to embrace the district’s future.
“We think it’s going to create a situation where we are going to have efficiency with many of our resources, our staffing, be better able to serve our students and community,” he said.
The new elementary/ junior high school has a large entrance and lobby area that the three previous schools didn’t have. This allows for a more welcome feeling when students come to school, Thiel said.
The building will serve students from pre-school through eighth-grade, about 1,500 students.
The two-story building then divides students into pods by grade level. This is a change in the district which used to have three buildings that served different grades.
“This is amazing,” fourth grade English teacher Emily Ginn said. “You walk in here and the colors are bright and I feel like it’s going to be a very positive place to be especially coming from the old buildings, this just feels new.”
A pod consists of several classrooms, a collaboration area, a teacher lounge, a private study area and locker space for students to put their belongings. All teachers for the grade level has their classrooms in their designated pod which will allow teachers to work more closely together than before.
“We had six classroom teachers and I was partnered with a math and language arts teacher and then the other three teachers were down in another hallway so we didn’t get to collaborate enough,” Pine said of the old building. “We might catch them at lunch but here we can keep an eye on all students.”
Now every teacher is next door and the teachers plan to work together to make sure each student is getting the attention he or she needs to be successful.
“I’ve been thinking about it and thinking about,” Pine said. “I was actually on the project design team and that was something that was really exciting. Talking about these project labs and this science classroom and being able to use this space now.”
The school also has a large cafeteria that can be divided based on the age of students. It has a new gymnasium that is large enough to fit a regulation-size high school basketball court in and new playground equipment that was designed with the help of student council.
Energy efficiency and integrating easy to use technology were priorities when building the new school, Thiel said.
The district had been behind in its use of technology, Thiel said, and one of the major reasons for that was because of the old buildings not being able to support 21st-century teaching trends.
“We started a couple years ago with implementing a one-to-one initiative,” Thiel said, meaning each student is given a Chromebook to use in class and at home. “What we did was double dip and said let’s do two grades at once.”
“We are basically going to be one-to-one through grades six through 11,” he said.
The new buildings support the technology, he said.
Every teacher in the district has also been issued a laptop and a Chromebook, Thiel said.
While students in younger grades will not have Chromebooks, they will have plenty of other technology, which will be especially important for fourth-graders.
“They have to be more tech savvy for upcoming testing and just honestly 21st-century skills,” Ginn said. “They need to be able to use all of that fluently. Some of them don’t have the opportunity for some of those things at home so being able to come to school and practicing will give them some of those 21-century skills.”
Another technological advancement Urbana will have for the first time is air conditioning. Ginn said that is important because it was difficult for students to learn in hot classrooms.
“We did not have air conditioning,” she said. “The beginning of the school year and the end of the school year was really tough for the kids to kind of focus and pay attention because it was so hot.”
The new technology is a step in the right direction, Thiel said, and the new buildings generate pride with students.
“When we opened up the high school the kids really took ownership of the building they saw and knew what it meant to them and the community.”
Clark County school building projects
While Urbana is set to open their building, three Clark County schools are in the process of planning to build their own.
Clark-Shawnee, Greenon and Northeastern taxpayers all agreed to pay more to help the districts replace old school buildings.
The first district of the three to pass a bond issue was Greenon and they are the closest to actually building the new school building. The school will be hosting a groundbreaking ceremony on Sept. 26.
“Along with the community, the Board of Education and staff have been eagerly anticipating this important moment in our district’s history,” Greenon Board of Education President Dennis Henry said. “We hope to see everyone out to celebrate the groundbreaking and to be part of this exciting step of building our future together.”
Greenon voters passed a $36 million bond in May 2017.
Clark-Shawnee passed a $37 million bond issue in August 2017. New superintendent Brian Kuhn said the district is actively working to make sure the new elementary school and renovated high school is everything students need.
“We wrapped up schematic design for both of those buildings and we are moving into the second phase of our OFCC project,” Kuhn said. “We are continuing to fine-tune the plan, getting teacher and staff input.”
He said more information for that part of the project will be released in the coming weeks.
Finally, Northeastern is planning construction for two new kindergarten through 12th-grade buildings, one on each side of the district. Superintendent John Kronour said plans are moving along.
“The NELSD facilities project is moving forward on all fronts,” he said. “We’re looking forward to working with community members to build new schools for NELSD students with an emphasis on security, flexibility to support current and future educational needs, and welcoming learning environments.”
Northeastern voters approved a $79 million bond issue in November to build the two schools.