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Grafton Village has new school feeling

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Returning Grafton Village Elementary School students may feel like they are coming back to a whole new school this year.

Nearly $12 million worth of renovations to the Stafford school wrapped up over the summer. Some were behind-the-scenes improvements, but other larger changes had teachers buzzing about the additions as they unpacked their classrooms on Monday.

Besides the greater space that was added to her classroom due to the realignment of some hallways, kindergarten teacher Janice Shadle couldn’t help but point out her classroom’s proximity to the new playground.

“We were very excited for it [the school’s renovations]. The playground is right there,” Shadle said.

For preschool teacher Jen Stearns, the new handicapped-accessible playground means that her special-needs students now have a place to increase their motor skills, which are the building blocks to developing other skills, she said.

“It is a major step up from the little Tikes playground we had,” Stearns said.

Other teachers and staff asked each other whether they had seen the new library, an entirely new addition to the school.

The old library that was the size of 2 classrooms had been replaced by a more open, naturally lit space. A gathering space for younger students at the library’s entrance flows into a rectangular room that was separated into rows of computers, new bookshelves and another gathering space for older students. That gathering space includes a dry-erase board and a new projector.

The school’s librarian, who was consulted for the library’s design, envisions the gathering spaces becoming multiple classrooms at once, Grafton Village principal Michael Sidebotham said. He added that the librarian wants to use the new space for more research projects and computer lessons.

“I assumed that we were going to get something like Falmouth Elementary School, which was an impressive library. But they came in and said, ‘We can do this and this.’ This school has its own identity,” Sidebotham said. “It is really nice to provide a new space for teachers and students.”

Grafton Village’s renovations were part of a round of renovations to some Stafford elementary schools. Stafford and Falmouth elementary schools, like Grafton Village, each got new libraries and projectors in all teaching areas over the past two years.

Each school also got more technical upgrades that included new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, new flooring, energy-efficient lighting and electrical and plumbing improvements. Other upgrades like new water fountains and new ramps were made to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The addition of an elevator at Grafton Village that replaced an often-broken chairlift was a much-needed improvement, school staff said.

Grafton Village’s renovations were the most expensive in this round of renovations, costing $11.9 million. Falmouth Elementary cost $11.4 million and Stafford Elementary cost $11.6 million.

The new playground, which was unique to Grafton Village, was necessary because the library was constructed on the old playground’s site. Sidebotham said Grafton Village was also the only school that got new technology in all the classrooms that allows teachers to broadcast their voices, which will be an attention-grabber for students. Large storefront windows that visually open up spaces throughout the school, a new marquee and having a design with a sustainability rating were other upgrades that only Grafton received.

The new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system translated into greater classroom space for many Grafton Village teachers who could now use the space that the old system once took up in their classrooms. One teacher put baskets of books where the old system’s ducts used to run through her class.

The new system also makes the classrooms much quieter. That, combined with new projectors and the new technology that allows teachers to broadcast their voice, all will help students better pay attention, Sidebotham said.

“It brings Grafton into parity with other elementary schools,” Stafford Board of Supervisor and former School Board member Meg Bohmke said of the technological upgrades.

Bohmke and School Board member Scott Hirons toured the school on Monday.

All the changes came at a good time for Grafton Village, since they ended up coinciding with scheduled replacement of computers throughout the school.

It all may give Grafton Village an edge in attracting desirable teachers.

“We would often find that we wouldn’t fare as well as other newly renovated schools,” Sidebotham said of when the school would try to attract teachers before the renovations.

Many of the bigger changes had a ripple effect on other parts of the school. Adding the library freed up space at the school’s entry so that the administrative offices, guidance offices and the clinic are all now centralized. A new music room, book room, computer room, staff conference rooms and collaborative work spaces are all new rooms put into old, repurposed spaces.

Some of the classrooms, like Katie Hall’s kindergarten class, got larger and more colorful with smaller interior renovations, such as the realignment of hallways and new paint and floors.

After a year of teaching her kindergartners from trailers at Stafford Middle School last year, Hall was thankful for the extra space. Students and teachers moved to Stafford Middle School last school year when construction to Grafton Village kicked in last July.

“The trailers were actually very nice, but it is good to be back,” Hall said.

Vanessa Remmers: 540/735-1975