By Terry Britt
GRAND SALINE—It is hard for anyone associated with Grand Saline Elementary School to keep from smiling as they work or walk down the halls of the new campus.
Getting prepared for this school year is different from any other the employees – even the longest-serving employees – have ever known.
“It just fills you with a sense of pride for the community and the district,” Grand Saline ISD Superintendent Trish Elliott said as she walked toward the sparkling new school building earlier this week.
“It has been such a positive step to watch it being built from the beginning to being just a few weeks from knowing there will be kids inside it,” she added.
The new elementary school campus, built with money from a voter-approved bond package two years ago, is different in every conceivable way from the aging, problem-ridden cluster of buildings it has replaced.
From the spacious new library with its tepee-shaped reading room to the cafetorium with two serving lines and quadrangle-style classroom sections for each grade level, the new school is truly a gem, Elliott noted.
“This has been a long time in coming, but it has been worth it to see just how much this building fits the community. The architectural firm (Butler Architects) did a great job designing it and working with our teachers to get their input and make sure their needs were met,” she said.
Jackson Construction of Quitman also got praise from Elliott for the work that made the new campus a reality.
In essence, Grand Saline ISD had little choice but to propose a bond package for a new elementary school. Community-wide concerns and local media attention on a myriad of issues at the old elementary campus – everything from a deteriorating foundation to student safety to skunks under one building – brought the situation to a head three years ago.
While it is likely no one will shed tears at leaving the old campus behind, the new school does have a little of the former main building in it. Part of the wooden floor from the original 1937 building now covers the inside entrance area of the new school.
In addition, Elliott mentioned, several photographs of elementary school classes from the 1950s and early 1960s are included as large murals facing the ends of some of the hallways.
“It is a nice touch that lets us keep a tie to our tradition in the past as we start new traditions in this building,” Elliott said.
The new campus is a world apart from the old campus in other respects, especially safety and space.
“I can’t think of anything I want to do more but come to work, now,” said Lance Caffey, the district’s director of information technology.
Caffey and his staff went from one very undersized room to hold computers, servers and their desks to individual offices and a dedicated, climate-controlled server room.
District librarian Kay Lott could not hide her excitement as she stood in what might be the most unique elementary school library in the state.
“It is all new, in a way, because we’ve never had a large library,” she said. “Until now, with the library we had, simply going to the bookshelf was a problem sometimes.
“I think we are going to see the benefits of having this library in the years to come. Now, I feel I can teach the children how to use the library appropriately,” Lott said.
The tepee-shaped reading room in the library is large enough to hold a full class of 24 students on the padded seating around a center area that will feature an electric campfire for effect.
“I’ve been here 32 years and never dreamed I would see something like this,” said library aide Nelda Sewell, one of several library aides shelving books in the new library earlier this week.
As for the classrooms, they are also more spacious, colorful and arranged in groups by grade level, with a sort of commons area for multi-classrooom activities connecting them. Each grade level’s classroom wing is fronted by a schoolhouse design with a unique color and a small teacher workroom.
There are individual rooms for special education students, the district’s Head Start program and for special assistance in reading or ESL (English as a Second Language). Such rooms were either non-existent or in a separate building on the old campus, Elliott noted.
There is also new playground equipment and separate play areas for designated grade levels.
Elliott said that with the new school comes something of a learning curve for teachers, students and parents alike.
“Everything is new so there will be a lot of things for everyone to learn, new procedures and new ways of doing things.
“We expect there may be a little confusion the first week or two, but we have thought through and planed for just about everything we could think about,” she said.
At Last! Grand Saline Set To Debut New Elementary School
By Terry Britt