Delaware News

'It's beautiful': Harrison Street's rebirth complete

Closed in 2010 due to budget shortfalls, Big Walnut school will reopen with upgrades this summer

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PAUL VERNON/THISWEEKNEWS
Harrison Street Elementary School Principal Kim Castiglione hugs incoming third-grader Grace Hart during an open house of the refurbished school Thursday, May 29. The school, closed in 2010, will reopen next school year.
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Everything old is new again in the Big Walnut Local School District.

Harrison Street Elementary School -- empty since 2010 -- reopened last week to let the public peek inside the newly refreshed building.

Dozens of parents and families wandered the halls and classrooms of during an open house Thursday, May 29. Children participated in a scavenger hunt to familiarize themselves with the school, searching for the cafeteria, the gymnasium and other rooms.

Parents met teachers, searched for their kids' classrooms and examined the renovations at the school, set to open for business in August.

"I'm over the moon," Principal Kim Castiglione said. "I don't think I've stopped smiling all day. The transformation is remarkable."

After levy failures in fall 2009 and spring 2010, the district had to make roughly $3.7 million in cuts in its operating budget. Harrison Street's closure was part of those cuts.

With the help of a voter-approved operating levy in November 2011, district officials started to work toward reopening the elementary school. Preparations began in earnest last spring.

"It's exciting," Assistant Superintendent Angie Pollock said. "This building has so much history in our district and our community. It's been so awe-inspiring to hear all the families who have such a connection to Harrison Street."

Though Harrison Street is one of the oldest buildings in the district, it does not appear dated. All 15 classrooms received fresh coats of paint and new tile or carpet. Each room also has been equipped with updated projectors, Smartboards and other technology.

About 225 students in grades 1-4 and all-day kindergartners will enter the school late this summer.

Lori Hart, mother of twins who will start third grade at Harrison Street in August, said she thought the building looked great.

"It's beautiful. It looks like they have done a great job with the remodeling," Hart said.

Harrison Street holds sentimental value for many Big Walnut residents. Hart said her husband attended Harrison Street and her children are excited to attend the same school as their dad.

Elaine Tackett attended Harrison Street and also sent her daughter there. Her granddaughter will enter fourth grade at the school this year.

Tackett said it is nice to see her granddaughter attend the same school she did.

"It feels good," Tackett said. "I was born and raised in Sunbury. I couldn't understand why they closed the school in the first place. Now I'm glad it's open."

Reopening Harrison Street is a good sign for the district's financial status and student growth, Pollock said. Financially, the district is secure enough to fully operate and staff the revived school, she said. This also helps to reduce overcrowding issues at Big Walnut and General Rosecrans elementary schools, she said.

"At BWE and GRE, the class sizes are continuing to grow, and we found that we just don't have a lot of room," Pollock said. "We want to make sure that by opening this building, we can leave ourselves some room to grow at all the elementary schools and so we don't feel so crowded."

Reopening Harrison Street was a low-cost venture, since many in-house staffers helped to complete the renovations, district leaders said.

"I cried this morning. I think I got overwhelmed by the amount of people that it has taken (to prepare for opening)," Castiglione said. "Everybody in this community came through for this little school to make it look beautiful."

Districtwide elementary school and intermediate school open houses are set Aug. 12. Students return to school Aug. 13.

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