The New Albany 1-8 building was buzzing Monday morning, Aug. 25, on the first day of school with the 300 students and 12 teachers who christened the first 12 classrooms in the new facility.
The building has no drinking fountains in place, few open restrooms and temporary carpets covering concrete floors in many of the classrooms until vinyl covering is installed, but the students seemed to enjoy the flexible chairs that allowed them to rock and move in the open-concept classrooms.
"The classrooms seem a little bigger and there are garage doors now," said 8-year-old Marissa Johnson, who just started third grade.
Each classroom has a "garage door" full of windows separating it from a common area that will be used by all students and teachers in the 12-classroom "community."
The classrooms are divided by magnetic white panels that can be written on with a dry-erase marker. The wall panels can be moved to allow two or more classrooms to collaborate on a project, something Superintendent April Domine said is one of the concepts designers had in mind for the new building.
"Everything is working as it was designed to work," Domine said. "It was designed based on what a student will need, how students learn and it's flexible to meet needs and it can change based on students' needs."
Domine said the garage doors provide better sound control than some walls and she said the easy access to the common area allows 300 students to gather for a quick assembly and be back inside their classrooms within seconds.
She said the design promotes a feeling of community and focuses on the district's goal of improving student culture, taking care of students' social and emotional needs and ensuring each student feels known by all 12 teachers in the community.
It differs from open-concept classrooms of the past in that it provides better separation and sound control between spaces, she said.
Students in several classrooms were asked to write what they feel is different about the new building on the wall panels. Some wrote about having a new teacher; others wrote about the garage doors. Other students noticed that books are outside the classrooms in the common area.
Third-grade teacher Tara Frederick, whose first year in the district was 16 years ago when the 2-5 elementary opened, said she felt a lot of energy the first day.
"The teachers are really excited," Frederick said. "We have a nice group who are working collaboratively together and there's a lot of energy and excitement at being part of the opening of a new building."
The teachers took advantage of the common area Monday morning to update the students on procedures for the new school year. For example, they said each class would take bathroom breaks in the 2-5 elementary and would use cups to get water from temporary water bottles in the building.
They also talked about ways the common space would be used and encouraged students not to linger in the common area when traveling between classrooms.
Domine said she has been encouraged by student interactions in the new space. When students were allowed to visit Aug. 22, a student grabbed a book from one of the bookshelves in the common area and sat in a comfortable chair to read, she said.
"From the moment students visited the new building on Friday (Aug. 22), this space came to life and did exactly what it was designed to do -- that is to engage students in learning," Domine said.
The district broke ground on the building more than a year ago, June 10, 2013, after local voters approved a $45.1 million, 2.59-mill bond issue in November 2012.
The rest of the building is expected to open in January.