TOWNSEND — The Townsend School District got approval to move into its new elementary school building only a few days before the start of the school year in August. Now, though there’s still plenty of work to be done, they’re starting to settle into the new facility.
“It’s starting to feel real,” said principal Christina Hartmann.
Construction started more than a year ago, after voters approved an $18.8 million bond by a margin of just three votes. It paid for replacing the former elementary school building, which dated back to 1952, as well as for some renovations to the middle school and other safety and security updates.
The old elementary school had leaking roofs, an inefficient and hard-to-maintain heating system and classrooms and bathrooms that weren’t fully accessible for people with disabilities. Hartmann said the spaces were also simply unsuitable for what they needed from them.
“I think one of the biggest things we had there was trying to share spaces – things like the lunchroom and PE – trying to coordinate with schedules, trying to make all of that work so that everyone was getting what they need,” she said.
The new building provides “flex spaces” outside the classroom for activities and extra support services. Hartmann said that means students won’t have to spend so much time walking back and forth to other parts of the school.
One standout feature is the “learning stairs,” where educators can bring students from more than one classroom together.
“They love it, they really do,” Hartmann said. “It’s something new, and again we’re not trying to squash into a classroom where people can’t see what’s happening – here, everyone’s got a nice view of what’s going on.”
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new building next Tuesday, the stairs will be dedicated in honor of Cecelia Hazelton, an educator who served in the area decades ago. The previous school building was officially named Cecelia Hazelton Elementary, and while the new one is called simply Townsend Elementary, Hazelton’s name will remain in a place of honor.
Hartmann said it’s also important that the new building features a more secure entrance.
“Our old building did not have that safety feature – pretty much anyone could walk in the front doors and walk past our secretaries,” she said.
While the new building is up and running, the project is far from over. Furniture for the flex spaces was still arriving by truck on Thursday. In addition, construction is still going on for the planned second phase of the project: connecting the elementary and middle schools and finishing the new playground.
Superintendent Susie Hedalen said Phase 2 couldn’t move forward until the old school building was demolished, and that couldn’t happen until after they were done using it for classes at the end of last school year.
“We knew it was going to take a while longer to get through Phase 2,” she said.
Hedalen said, thanks to support from the community, they’ve been able to keep the project moving forward on time and on budget. She said there is still some money left over from the bond, and they are looking at the possibility of adding on two more classrooms, as the district responds to growing enrollment.
“Last school year, we had 630 students approximately at the beginning of the school year, and right now we have 720,” she said. “It’s definitely unprecedented growth for the area – something that the school board could have never predicted or planned for.”
Hedalen said they’ve seen new students coming in from neighboring communities and from other states.
The ribbon-cutting at the new school is set to begin at 5 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 27, with the dedication of the learning stairs set for 6 p.m.