Ray Perrigo, principal of Gateway Elementary School, jokes that he didn't know if he'd make it to the opening of his new school.
The 42-year veteran educator was appointed principal of the Omaha Public Schools' 63rd elementary school in 2009, but a series of construction setbacks twice delayed the school's opening.
“I wondered if I'd be able to walk in the door before my retirement,” he told a packed room of parents, students, teachers and school officials at Gateway's dedication ceremony Sunday. “But I'm still here.”
Proud students and teachers showed off the new school, which the fast-growing South Omaha community has awaited to ease overcrowding at Ashland Park-Robbins, Highland and Pawnee Elementary Schools.
Originally scheduled to open in winter 2012, then fall 2012, Gateway didn't start admitting students until this August. Bad weather, a change in contractors and extensive on-site excavation pushed back the construction schedule.
Perrigo said the finished product was worth the wait. The $21 million, 105,565-square-foot school at 42nd and V Streets is modern and bright, and one of only a few elementary schools to open with a completed playground, which was funded by a Sherwood Foundation grant.
The school is LEED Silver-certified, which means it has a green, energy-efficient design. The school has a tank that collects rainwater, geothermal heating and cooling systems, and outdoor teaching gardens. Part of the school's curriculum will focus on energy, sustainability and the grow-your-own food movement.
Each classroom is outfitted with interactive whiteboards and sound systems that allow teachers to be heard in every corner of the classroom, thanks to a small microphone worn on a lanyard around the neck.
The library is decorated with a mural and a hanging alphabet sculpture, thanks to a donation in the memory of Carol Ann Daneff, a former OPS teacher and reading specialist.
The school has 810 students in grades pre-K through sixth — 150 more than originally anticipated. More than 400 came from Ashland Park-Robbins, Perrigo said.
“This is one of the fastest-growing areas in the entire OPS community, and this enrollment is just going to continue to skyrocket,” OPS Superintendent Mark Evans said.
Perrigo said some parents and students were anxious about switching schools, but most fears vanished once they caught sight of the new building.
Sixth-grader Madison Langle said that she lives only a few blocks from the school and that her family often walks over after dinner to play on the new jungle gyms.
“When I found out Gateway would be opening, I really hoped I'd be able to attend the new school,” she said.
Two new Elkhorn schools also held dedication ceremonies Sunday. West Bay and Sagewood Elementary opened this year, admitting more than 500 students.