The days of schools being housed in a sprawling brick building with dingy hallways and monotonous classrooms may be on their way out. It takes a lot of money and a long time to build new school buildings, but the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township is getting a leg up for the 2019-20 school year with two new buildings, the first in the district since 1991.
District leaders were at Clearwater Elementary School, off East 79th Street near Dean Road, for a ribbon cutting ceremony July 30, two days before the first day of school. Parents, students and community members were invited to tour the new building, which has the same layout as the new Willow Lake Elementary School on the west side of the district.
The district was able to afford the two schools because of a 2016 referendum. Clearwater is basically replacing the nearby John Strange Elementary School, and Willow Lake is being added to deal with an influx of elementary students.
The K-5 schools have what architects are calling “neighborhoods.” Rather than classrooms branching off of a long hallway, each grade is its own little community, where classrooms surround a common area. This is meant to use space more efficiently. The design was partly inspired by students in the district.
Clearwater Principal Maravene Inman said students made drawings of their dream school that architects and designers considered in planning. Of course, some wanted a swimming pool and trampoline floors, “but still when we met with the designers and architects about it,” Inman said, “they were like, ‘We need to be able to create some of this. What they’re trying to tell us is they want spaces that are interactive, that are fun, that are movement-oriented.’”
This concept is easier to pull off with an elementary school because students have cubbies in the classroom and not lockers in a hallway. Because these are younger children, some special attention was given to students who struggle to sit still for a whole school day. Linda Dugger’s second grade classroom at Clearwater, for example, has some chairs that wobble and others that rock.
Asked what he was most excited for about the new school, Josiah Brown, a second grader who was at the ribbon cutting, said what most second graders were probably thinking.
“’Cause there’s a new playground,” he said. Then he thought for a couple of seconds: “And I’ll get a new classroom and new teacher.”
Another advantage to building a school from the ground up is the opportunity to customize security measures that may be difficult to retrofit into a building that’s just being renovated. It’s an especially salient topic since the school shooting epidemic came close by at a Noblesville middle school in 2018.
The doors to the media center, which is at the center of the buildings, are locked during the school day, and that’s the only way to get to classrooms. Guests will be able to walk into the building through the first set of main doors during the school day, but they’ll be locked in a vestibule until someone from the front office lets them in.
A scanner in the office will read drivers licenses so the school has them on file. If a guest doesn’t have a background check, they can’t go to where students are. There are also more traditional safety measures such as cameras, which Inman can access from her cellphone.
“There are so many safety measures before you would even get access to a learning area in the building,” Inman said.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.