Students, staff and administrators have reclaimed Stewart Alternative Elementary School since arson closed its doors in July 2010.

Students, staff and administrators have reclaimed Stewart Alternative Elementary School since arson closed its doors in July 2010.

The expanded and updated elementary school reopened Jan. 5, the first day after winter break.

"I love it, absolutely love the building," Principal Ebone Johnson said. "It's been great watching kids getting used to their new home. And from what I've seen, they're treating it like that."

Johnson is also getting acclimated to the new surroundings. She was not the building principal when it closed less than five years ago. Also, for the first time, the school is accepting sixth-graders, meaning it is now K-6.

"I really feel that we're starting new and fresh and this is our place together," Johnson said.

Stewart, originally built in 1874, is the oldest operating school in the Columbus City Schools district.

The $13.6 million project included a complete renovation of the existing 28,000 square feet of space and the addition of 18,000 square feet.

Since the fire, students were reassigned to nearby Beck Elementary School.

Architects used classic architectural elements to blend the building with its surroundings. The outside has been somewhat reconfigured.

A portion of Pearl Alley has been closed. The parking lot now fronts High Street, as does the school's front door. A new playground means children no longer have to walk across City Park Avenue to Schiller Park for outdoor activities.

Inside, the school now has a separate gymnasium and cafeteria, bigger library and air-conditioning. The art room has sinks and a kiln. The smell of fresh paint wafts through the hallways.

On the technology front, there's a new computer room and full Wi-Fi connection. Each classroom has SMART boards, or interactive projectors and about five Chromebook computers for students to use.

Stewart is now a partial lottery/neighborhood school, thanks in part to the activities of Southside STAY -- Standing Together to Advance Youth -- which lobbied to get the school, formerly an all-lottery facility, to open enrollment to children in the area.

Right now, the neighborhood boundaries are that of historic German Village.

Ken Flower, a member of STAY who has a daughter enrolled at Stewart, said the group is pleased with the renovations and that the school has returned to German Village.

"A school that has an invested neighborhood around it is a stronger school," Flower said.

Flower, who lives in Merion Village, said STAY is not pushing to expand the boundaries. Stewart currently has 300 students with a capacity for 50 more. Flower, whose daughter was enrolled through the lottery system, said the district will give deference to neighborhood parents.

The school has a bevy of area volunteers who tutor kids.

Sarah Irvin Clark has been tutoring the same girl, who's now in third grade, for three years.

"I'm just so excited for them being able to be in the brand new building," Irvin Clark said. "It will make a really big difference."