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Changes at South School both cosmetic, functional

Kevin Allen of Allen Floors puts down tile squares in a first-floor classroom at South School in Jefferson City. Big improvements are being made this summer at the nearly 50-year-old building.

Kevin Allen of Allen Floors puts down tile squares in a first-floor classroom at South School in Jefferson City. Big improvements are being made this summer at the nearly 50-year-old building. Photo by Julie Smith.

Students returning to South Elementary this fall will hardly recognize their old school, since it is being gutted — and renovated — this summer from the front door steps to the back loading dock.

Principal Carey Drehle said workers are hopeful they’ll be able to finish the project in time for the first day of school on Aug. 15. The renovation is part of district administrators’ plan to improve one Jefferson City Public Schools facility every year. Last year, North Elementary School was renovated; next summer, West Elementary School is on the schedule.

The South School renovation project is costing the district $1.9 million.

With the exception of the tiled hallway walls and cork bulletin boards in the classrooms, nearly all surfaces in the buildings have been torn out and replaced with newer, more modern materials.

First opened nearly 60 years ago, the school underwent a significant addition about four years ago that upgraded its library/media room. But — until this summer — most of the building showed signs of its 1954 origin.

The changes are both cosmetic and functional.

Workers have removed the school’s asbestos floor tiles and asbestos wainscoting in the classrooms. They also have removed the building’s original boiler heat system and are replacing it with a new high efficiency heating and air-conditioning system. The new system will have occupancy sensors.

Although most of the building’s spacious windows will remain in place, workers will be replacing sections of glass that need it, said Drehle.

The rooms are full of light, which will be tempered with blinds.

Drehle is also hopeful the former hallways — which used to be rather dim — will be better lighted after the renovation is complete. Lighting in the school’s parking lot also is being brightened, she added.

Drehle was particularly excited about a new music room for students. The music room — and a new reading recovery room — is being carved out of space that was formerly used by the maintenance workers for storage.

“It’s a fabulous music space ... it will give students a chance to move, dance and wiggle,” she said. “And the teacher will have adequate storage for instruments.”

The art room is also seeing improvements with a much bigger storage area and a new sink.

Like all the other classrooms in the building, the new music room features a brightly colored wall. The school’s new color scheme consists of orange, yellow, blue and green. In the classrooms, teachers picked the shade they liked best and architects picked a contrasting color — typically orange.

“It might not be what you might pick for your home,” said Drehle, “but kids love color.”

The rooms also feature new wooden casements, cubbies and bookshelves. However, the original woodwork that surrounded the cork bulletin boards and chalkboards will remain. “We wanted to keep the original character of the building,” Drehle explained.

Some of the most significant changes to the building are happening near the front office. Although the footprint of the administrative space isn’t changing, a set of double doors is being added for security reasons. The architect has designed a transaction window for visitors to approach before they enter the building. A secretary will sit inside the space to greet visitors and check their identifications.

“If they need to come in the building, they’ll be buzzed in,” Drehle explained.

The gymnasium and stage area are also getting new treatments. The gym is getting a new floor and the stage is being made disability-accessible. A rock-climbing wall is being repositioned to a better location. “It’s no longer behind the basketball goals where someone could get hurt,” Drehle said.

Designers also plan to repaint the school’s mascot — the Tiger — on the gymnasium wall.

Drehle said asking teachers to pack and move all their belonging out of the contractor’s way was a big task.

“It was a big job, but nobody complained,” she said. “They are all really excited about the changes.”

Drehle said she participates in weekly meetings with the architects and contractors. She’s anxious to reveal the new improvements to the public.

“It’s been exciting,” she said. “I can’t wait to share it with the kids. It’s something the entire community is going to be proud of. Everyone is working hard to get it ready.”

Our Back to School section outlines information parents will need to get their students ready for the next school year. More stories can be found on pages 20-21 and 51-60 of Sunday's e-newspaper.

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