After just four months in her new school building, Richard Avenue Elementary School principal Cathy Moore takes only a few seconds to think of the word that describes the impact of the new facility.

After just four months in her new school building, Richard Avenue Elementary School principal Cathy Moore takes only a few seconds to think of the word that describes the impact of the new facility.

"It's been transformative," Moore said.

Richard Avenue is one of the buildings constructed in the final phase of the South-Western City School District's Ohio Facilities Construction Commission project.

The building opened in August.

"We've had to rethink how we do things here," Moore said. "That's because the opportunities to enrich and enhance our students' education have grown exponentially."

"It still doesn't feel real," said Beth Cummings, Richard Avenue's literacy coach. "I come to school each morning and I can't believe I'm here."

Teachers still are absorbing all the building and technology improvements and how they can be used to improve student learning, said second-grade teacher Jen Goubeaux, who also serves as a technology coach for Richard Avenue.

"We're learning right along with the students," she said.

"There are really no more excuses now for teachers," Cummings said. "You can't say, 'I'd like to do that, but we don't have the technology,' or 'That's impossible because we don't have the resources.'

"Now we're being pushed to really step up our game for our students, and that's exciting for all of us."

The district used the same design format for each of the 13 new elementary buildings constructed as part of the OFCC project. It broke ground in spring 2013 on the first phase of buildings, which opened in at the start of the 2014-15 school year. Two other phases followed, with the third finishing up last summer.

All of the new school buildings have the same features and enhancements, and those elements also were among renovations to Darby Woods and Buckeye Woods elementary schools.

The $260 million OFCC project included construction of a new Franklin Heights High School.

New designs

As with the other new schools, a visitor to Richard Avenue would find the school's cafeteria located across from the front entrance doors.

Superintendent Bill Wise said the project's design format "allows us to use the dedicated spaces for the cafeteria and gymnasium for the purposes they were intended."

In the old elementary buildings, the gym and lunchroom shared space.

"We had to interrupt gym classes for lunchtime," Wise said. "Now we're able to continue to hold physical education activities while lunch is going on."

The wall that divides the two spaces can be removed to create an expanded space for large family events," Moore said.

The cafeteria has a large stage with screen and enhanced sound system, and the tables can be converted into benches to provide seating for events, she said.

The new buildings use a closed-loop geothermal system to provide more efficient and effective heating and cooling, Wise said.

Although a grand total of the reduction in energy costs at the new buildings is not yet available, preliminary results from the 2015-16 school year show the cost per square foot has declined from about $1.38 per year to around $1.10, he said.

The efficiency of the geothermal system has been demonstrated during hot and cold weather, Cummings said.

"In our old building, we didn't have air conditioning, and when it was hot, students were miserable," she said. "During the winter, it would get so cold, students would ask if they could keep their coats on all day. How could you turn them down? It was cold."

"We'd try all kinds of things to try to cool things down when it was hot," Moore said. "It wouldn't work. And when students are feeling really hot or really cold, it's not conducive to learning."

The technological improvements included as part of the facilities project also are conducive to learning, Moore said. She said has noticed students seem more excited about coming to school.

New technology

An increased number of Chromebook computers helps make learning more engaging and fun for students, she said.

Richard Avenue previously had four desktop computers per classroom.

Each classroom has eight Chromebooks and each grade shares a cart that has another 32 computers, Moore said.

"We had a 1:6 ratio with computers, and now it's 1:3 on a daily basis and can be 1:1 when a teacher uses a cart," Goubeaux said.

Students now have the ability to work collaboratively using the devices. Their opportunity to research information and participate in classroom activities, that will prepare them for the 21st century world, has been enhanced, she said.

Goubeaux said her students were excited and wanted to learn more after they read a story about the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

"So I posed a question about the tree and told them to go online and see what they could find out about the Rockefeller Center tree," she said. "With our access to Google Classroom, students are able to learn so much on their own.

"If they have a question and it's not in the book, they can go online and find out the answer themselves. It personalizes the learning and makes it more fun."

Each classroom has interactive white boards, short-throw projectors and document cameras in place of the traditional chalkboard. Projectors and cameras also are in each grade's extended learning area.

"The ELAs give us the flexibility to hold programs for an entire grade or hold small group activities for a small number of students, all within a few steps of the classroom," Wise said.

The space is located in each grade level's hallway and also includes a small study room shared by two classrooms, Moore said.

"It allows a teacher to have a small group of students work on a project in the ELA, while the rest of the students are engaged in a different activity inside the classroom," she said.

The additional space is in essence an extension of the classroom, and offers convenience and a lack of disruption when reading intervention is needed for a student, Cummings said.

Students respond

It's not just Richard Avenue teachers and staff who appreciate their new building.

Students in Katie Castle's third-grade classroom talked about how much they like their new school.

Alden Snouffer said he enjoyed the chance to participate in a Google Hangout with a shark hunter.

"We didn't have to send them the questions ahead of time," he said. "We were able to talk to him directly and ask him a question and get the answer from him. That was really cool."

"Last year we had these little (class)rooms and now they're so much bigger," Cameron Ferguson said. "It's a lot better. You not all scrunched together."

Destynee Taylor said she likes having the lockers and cubbies in the classroom where she can store her books and supplies.

"The lunchroom is better because it's no longer a gym," she said.

The school not only is nicer -- it's more comfortable, Alden said.

"You used to go into the library and you would freeze," he said. "This year, there's (an electric) fireplace in the library and you just curl up and keep warm while you're reading."