Educators show off renovations at East Elementary School

Several members of the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce visited East School Friday morning to see the renovations made over the summer. Chamber president Randy Allen commented that a community's ability to draw new employers and businesses depends on the quality of the public schools.

East Elementary School got a face-lift this summer, and Jefferson City Public School officials say the aesthetic updates "wowed" students, parents and teachers alike.

A fresh coat of paint, new flooring and an updated heating and cooling system goes a long way, said Principal Julia Martin at Friday morning's Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce coffee meeting hosted at the school.

"For the new kids, it was their very first time being in it," Martin said. "But the old kids were like, "It's like a whole new school.' After we explained to them that the layout was the same they felt at ease, but they were really impressed."

The renovation is part of the district's capital project plan to update school buildings.

The district has spent just under $20 million on renovations that have taken place over the past five years, said Bob Weber, director of facilities for the public schools.

About four or five more buildings are scheduled for updates at an estimated $3 million apiece. East Elementary School was completed on budget at $3.4 million, Weber said.

With the renovations recently completed, Chamber of Commerce President Randy Allen said members wanted to tour the building, and it was the first time the chamber's coffee meeting has been held at a school.

"Having a good education system is a major factor for drawing businesses," Allen said. "(Education) becomes more and more important all the time. We'll spend more time and resources to improve the schools because people want to know how good the schools are here."

Tour guides walked chamber members through the newly-renovated gymnasium, cafeteria, front entrance, main office and classrooms.

A new front entrance was the biggest safety improvement to the building, and creates a more cohesive floor plan for visitors who expect to arrive at the main office once entering the building.

Prior to this year, everyone who entered the building did so at the back entrance near the library.

Now, guests are greeted by those working in the main office and are then buzzed into the building. The main office space, which holds several staff offices, was expanded and repainted a vibrant red with the school mascot overlaid on one of the walls.

The secure vestibules at the entrance are being added to every school for improved safety to ensure staff members know everyone who enters the building, said JCPS Superintendent Larry Linthacum.

"It stinks that we have to do that," Linthacum said during a presentation to the chamber. "We want to have safe schools, and teachers can have great lessons, but if the kids don't feel safe, then it doesn't matter."

An internal heating and cooling system has been a major update for staff and students at the school, Martin said. It replaced the noisy window units that were often disruptive and caused major fluctuations in temperature throughout the building.

"They were noisy," Martin said. "Teachers would have to turn (the window units) off to instruct and turn them back on to cool down. To have the same temperature throughout the whole building is a big difference."

In the gymnasium, shock-absorbing flooring replaced checkered tile and some added school pride decorates the walls with a large eagle decal.

An additional serving line was installed in the cafeteria, and new tables with red stools replaced the older versions.

The renovations also addressed some space issues by borrowing square footage from the art and music rooms to create four "flex" spaces for one-on-one time between students and teachers.

Linthacum said the district is still addressing growing student populations that have to squeeze into current school buildings, and it is a problem the district is actively trying to solve.

As of now, Martin said, East Elementary is the least crowded elementary school because of the extra space available, including a trailer added a couple of years ago that houses two classrooms.

Other buildings don't have the additional classroom space East Elementary has, she said.

The district is considering a bond issue to build another elementary school within the district, but officials say the idea is still in the planning phases.

The next building scheduled for a summer renovation is Moreau Heights Elementary School, budgeted for about $2.5 million, Weber said.

What would typically be a four-month project for each school is packed into two months during summer, he said. While it's a packed schedule, Weber said he never gets tired of seeing the finished project.

"I've been here 22 years," Weber said. "I enjoy seeing things get done. I enjoy seeing the kids come in and they're so excited to see the new gym and seeing kids and staff pleased with the result."