Vicki Christ stopped at a table in the West Bay Elementary School gym last week to check the maps laying out traffic flow around the Elkhorn-area school.
It was an extra stop for Christ and her children, Connor, a fifth-grader, and Brooklyn, a second-grader, during the building's Back to School 101 event. Families could learn about teacher assignments, get school pictures taken and pay for lunch before school starts Tuesday.
But it was an important stop. Families are learning the lay of the land at the new school, built in a former horse pasture near 188th and Spring Streets.
There's a lot of that kind of learning going on in the Omaha metro area this year. Students across the area will be heading back to school over the next two weeks, starting with the Millard Public Schools today.
West Bay is one of two schools that the Elkhorn school district is opening this fall. The other, Sagewood Elementary, is near 180th and Fort Streets.
Two Omaha Public Schools buildings are opening: Gateway Elementary at 42nd and U Streets and Alfonza W. Davis Middle School near 132nd and State Streets.
And the construction doesn't stop there. Additions and renovations are underway — with some already complete — in the Millard, Council Bluffs and Papillion-La Vista districts.
Papillion-La Vista will soon start construction on an elementary school expected to open next fall north of Werner Park, and it has purchased land for a new middle school north of Papillion-La Vista South High School.
In one way, the switch to West Bay won't be a huge adjustment for the Christ kids. The fast-growing Elkhorn district has used the same basic design for all the elementary schools it has built since 2000, changing color palettes and making learn-as-you-go tweaks along the way.
Counting the two new elementary buildings, the district has opened eight schools in the past decade. Another, Grandview Middle School near 178th Street and Grand Avenue, is to open next fall.
“It looks a lot like my old school,” said Connor Christ, who previously attended Fire Ridge Elementary, which opened in 2005 near 196th and Farnam Streets. Several of his friends are making the switch, but his best buddy will not. Still, he said, he's excited to be in a new building.
So are his teachers. Second-grade teachers Jenny Oligmueller and Patrice Kruger were busy last week checking orders for school supplies to make sure everything had arrived. “It's like Christmas for a teacher,” Kruger said.
Both teachers moved over from Spring Ridge Elementary, which Kruger helped open in 2000. Both have been busy, as have teachers across Nebraska and Iowa, setting up their classrooms.
Oligmueller said West Bay's laminator has been running full time as teachers coat signs, calendars and other materials to make them last. Now she's ready to meet her new students.
“It's exciting. I'm glad the kids will finally be here,” she said. “We've been working and working, and you kind of forget they're coming.”
As of last week, West Bay had registered 255 students, said Principal Jen Coltvet. But more are anticipated.
Sagewood, to the north, will start with about 275 students. That school, too, is poised to grow.
Both new schools, as well as the middle school scheduled to open next fall, were paid for with the $49.1 million bond issue voters approved in 2011.
Though contractors were completing a few items last week, most work has been finished, said Ryan Lindquist, Elkhorn's director of building services. West Bay was waiting for the blue sheathing for its awning, which was on back order.
Design tweaks incorporated into the new schools included recessed work areas for teacher assistants and relocation of the circulation desk inside the media center.
Based on West Bay teachers' feedback to the architects, Lindquist said, preschool access to restrooms will be from classrooms rather than a hallway.
West Bay's preschool wing even has an outdoor tricycle track — a concrete path around the preschool playground — to give youngsters a place to ride and build motor skills.
Each school's gym features a mural depicting its mascot — a Bengal tiger at West Bay, a timber wolf at Sagewood — by Waverly, Neb., muralist David Reiser.
Gateway, OPS's new elementary school, will draw the majority of its students from Ashland Park-Robbins Elementary and some from Highland and Pawnee Elementary Schools.
Gateway and Davis, the district's new middle school, are outfitted with environmentally friendly and energy-efficient systems. Gateway has rain gardens and a rainwater collection cistern for irrigating teaching gardens. Davis features two partial green roofs, a rain garden and stormwater quality basins.
Davis was dedicated last week. It's named for the late Capt. Alfonza W. Davis, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen and the first African-American airman from north Omaha to earn fighter pilot wings.
|Gateway Elementary (OPS)||About 827, preschool through sixth grade, including those in an early childhood center on the site||$21 million||106,000 sq. ft.|
|Davis Middle School (OPS)||About 400 sixth- and seventh-graders. Eighth-graders will begin attending in fall 2014.||$28 million||187,000 sq. ft.|
|West Bay Elementary (Elkhorn district)||About 255||$9 million||50,000 sq. ft.|
|Sagewood Elementary (Elkhorn district)||About 275||$8.5 million||46,000 sq. ft.|
Major school renovations and additions
Papillion-La Vista Public Schools
» Parkview Heights Elementary: Renovations to improve front-entry security and close open classrooms. Two classrooms will be added and the kitchen updated. The front office renovation will be done for the start of school, the kitchen in December and new classrooms in fall 2014.
» Golden Hills Elementary: Construction to begin soon on a similar entry renovation, open classroom closures, a kitchen update and an addition.
Millard Public Schools
» Upchurch Elementary: Construction of a six-classroom addition underway. Move-in day is planned for the start of second semester.
» Rohwer Elementary: Construction expected to begin after Labor Day on a similar addition, which will include a multipurpose room. It's expected to be ready for use by the start of the 2014-15 school year.
Council Bluffs Community School District
» Bloomer Elementary: First phase of renovations, which include creating a safety vestibule at the front entry. Some roofing and flooring work also is being done, with interior updates to follow next summer.
» Lewis & Clark Elementary: Renovation plans are being drawn up.