By Sammy Yates
Waddell Elementary School teachers have been pleasantly surprised by their temporary classrooms around Lylburn Downing Middle School.
“In some ways it’s much more colorful and engaging,” first-grade teacher Janice Burguieres said. “Rather than having one bulletin board, my entire classroom is a bulletin board. I can hang things up all over the place. I can hang the kids’ work up.”
The Waddell students are in four locations around the middle school campus, including two temporary modular buildings, which the teachers call “pods.” Students in kindergarten through fourth grade will use the pods while a new school is built on the site of the 87-year-old Waddell building next to Woods Creek.
Superintendent Dan Lyons said both school faculties are working well together on the same campus.
“I think it’s better than ever. The students had no problem at all adjusting and the teachers have stepped up,” Lyons said. “They’re doing more than they normally have to, but everyone is doing a little extra, and everything seems to be going fairly smoothly.”
Lyons said the few complaints he has received were from parents about dismissal on the first day.
Rachel Beanland, who has two children enrolled at Waddell, said she heard other parents complaining about long pickup times initially this year. But that has changed, she said.
“They shortened it dramatically and now people are getting in and out quickly.”
Beanland said pickup at the old school was a nightmare for her. Now her children are able to walk to their babysitter’s house after school.
The new school year brought other changes to Waddell as well. Principal Lisa Clark resigned two days into the school year to become principal at Kling Elementary in Buena Vista.
Scott Jefferies, who began this year as assistant superintendent in Lexington and as principal of Lylburn Downing, was appointed interim principal of Waddell as well. Lyons said he hopes to find a new principal for Waddell by second semester.
Teachers and parents agree that the temporary facilities are an improvement from conditions in the old school. For one thing, most teachers’ pod classrooms are larger than what they had at Waddell.
“The pods are strangely nicer than a lot of the classrooms at Waddell,” Beanland said. “They’re larger, newer, and have better climate control. They don’t feel like trailers at all when you’re in them.”
Each pod has a boys’ bathroom, a girls’ bathroom and water fountains. And each classroom has its own thermostat to control heating and air conditioning.
Students in grades kindergarten through four are in two pods next to the Lylburn Downing building. But fifth graders have been placed in the middle school building itself.
Also in the middle school building are the shared library, gym, music room and art room. But middle school teachers have priority. If the middle school teacher is teaching, the elementary art or music teacher has to teach from a mobile cart in the pod classroom.
Burguieres said the most difficult changes have been the little things that she used to take for granted. She said the pods lack closet space for storage, so teachers have been creative in adapting to that. They are also having to use keys every time they enter the buildings.
Burguieres, who taught in the same classroom in the old Waddell building for 22 years, is thrilled to see the construction of the new building finally underway.
“Something had to happen with that building,” she said. “It was not safe and it was not healthy.”
The hallway floor outside Burguieres’ old classroom was slanted, making it nearly impossible for students in wheelchairs to navigate or for anyone to push the computer cart down the hall. Burguieres said water and moisture were serious problems at the old Waddell, with a little stream running through the unusable basements rooms.
Lyons said the old Waddell building has had renovations in the past, some done better than others. He said the biggest issue was that not all of the classrooms met state regulations for size.
Lyons said the old building also was not wired for multiple computers, the heating and air conditioning system was near the end of its life expectancy, and the building needed to be cleared of asbestos again.
“The new building will be completely handicapped-accessible. It will have a good flow to it,” Lyons said. “All of the rooms will meet state code as far as size, it will have the latest safety like sprinkler systems and alarm systems, and it will be very accessible with technology.”
School and city officials have discussed replacing or upgrading the old building since 2003. The city had to put the project out for bids twice in the past year after initial bids came in over budget. City Council eventually approved a $12 million bond sale, but negotiations followed the second round of bids to bring the project within range of that budget.
City Council approved the final contract with Nielsen Builders in August, which was $1 million less than Nielsen’s first bid, but still $850,000 over the $12 million.
Lyons said by installing rooftop heating and cooling units, the planners were able to eliminate large mechanical rooms and shrink the overall square footage by about 6,000 square feet. Lyons also said they will be using some of the original columns in the new design to preserve some of the historic value of the original building.
Asbestos abatement began on the old building in the summer. Lyons said workers are still waiting for permits but hope to start demolition in the next two weeks. School officials expect to move into the new Waddell in January 2016.