Most South Elementary students saw their newly refurbished school for the first time at an open house Wednesday evening. By Thursday morning - the first day of school for the Jefferson City Public Schools - the school's 304 students were clearly enjoying their new classrooms.
"They are so proud of the changes," said Principal Carey Drehle. "There was a lot of excitement with both the kids and parents."Â
When 9-year-old Monet Davis first walked in the building, she was astonished at the changes work crews had accomplished over the summer.Â
"It was awesome!" she said.Â
Adults had told Davis last spring that renovations were being planned, but the reality was different than what she had envisioned. "I just thought they were going to level the school and build anew," she said.
Instead workers renovated the structure from the back loading dock to the front steps, giving the entire building a needed facelift.
"It's changed so much," added Aidan Haugen, a schoolmate of Davis.
Haugen commented on how good the new ceilings, tile floors and freshly painted walls look. But he also said he expected "a ton more" new technology in the building.Â
Asked what his favorite part of the renovation is, Haugen said: "It's hard to choose between the classrooms and the gymnasium."Â
Both Haugen and Davis said the building's new cooling system is an improvement over the air units teachers used to rely on.Â
"It used to get really, really hot in here," Haugen noted.Â
In order to heighten the "Wow!" factor for staffers and the public, Drehle kept the school's front entrance under wraps until 7:30 a.m. last Saturday. The new entrance features new wooden "trees" attached to the ceiling, much brighter hallway lighting and a modernized office.Â
First-grade teacher Abby Funderburk said both teachers and students were delighted with the renovations.Â
"I heard parents tell others, "You have to come and see the new school.' They were so surprised, so excited and so shocked," she said.Â
Drehle said it's been a busy five days as teachers and volunteers worked within a compressed schedule to ready their classrooms for the upcoming year. Drehle said she never worried that contractors wouldn't finish in time for the first day of school. With the exception of a few minor tasks, the renovation is complete, she said.
"I had total faith in everybody who was working on it. They were determined to make it happen," she said.
Revealing the new school at Wednesday's open house was a lot of fun, she said.Â
"It was the best night ever," she added.
Across the district, the first day of school "went smoothly" with only a few delays, reported David Luther, assistant to the superintendent.
"I spoke to First Student Inc., our bus company, and they reported that the morning routes went very well ... better than last year," Luther said.Â
He said the district normally encounters a few busing delays during the first week of class, but he expects them to subside by Tuesday.
Luther explained that on the first day, bus drivers typically will wait an additional 30 seconds per stop. By the end of the route, those waits can add up to five or six extra minutes.Â
"But we didn't have any accidents. All our walkers arrived safely. And, as far as I know, all of our high school drivers arrived without incident," he said.