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New Ortiz Elementary: a ‘bright and cheery space for kids’

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, April 13, 2012, at 8:17 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, March 11, 2013, at 1:48 p.m.

Walking through the airy hallways, colorful classrooms and a spacious gymnasium at Martin Ortiz Elementary School, principal Michele Ingenthron couldn’t stop smiling.

“We couldn’t have asked for more,” she said. “It’s gorgeous.”

On Friday, district officials and media got their first look inside the $7.7 million school, one of five new buildings that will open this fall.

Ortiz, built on the site of the former Arkansas Avenue school at 33rd Street North and Arkansas, will serve about 450 kindergarten through fifth-grade students as well as morning and afternoon pre-K. It was designed to address growth in the area and to relieve crowding at Cloud Elementary.

Matt Hamm, an architect with Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture, said designers had more in mind than simple hallways and classrooms, though.

“We wanted to create a bright and cheery space for kids – with colors, with lots of natural light,” he said.

“But we also looked at ways to bridge the building and the community, to make that connection.”

One way is with lots of windows – many more than a typical Wichita elementary school – that look out into nearby neighborhoods. Because the school’s gym doubles as storm shelter and children won’t have to huddle through storms in hallways and corridors, more areas of the building can feature bright, airy glass, said Joe Johnson, of the architecture firm.

Each classroom is fitted with the latest technology, including smart boards, document cameras, wireless Internet and audio systems.

Ingenthron, currently principal at Lincoln Elementary, one of the district’s oldest schools, raved as she pointed out electrical outlets in a conference room that automatically launch the smart board and speakers when you plug in your computer.

“This building is really rich in technology,” she said. “Which is great, especially for our low-income kiddos who may not have this … at home.”

The building also is rich with color – apple green, mustard, ocean blue and purple – along with neutral grays, tans and beiges. So far there’s no official school colors or mascot; Ingenthron hopes to involve students and teachers in that decision.

Johnson said Ortiz Elementary is one of the most economical projects built so far as part of the district’s $370 million bond issue. Taking advantage of competitive bids and low interest rates shortly after the bond passed in 2008, the district paid about $113 per square foot for the new school – well below the $140 per square foot planners had budgeted.

Toward the end of Friday’s tour, Ingenthron guided the parade of visitors through new offices and storage rooms and back to the school’s front entryway.

“If we had some kids,” she said, smiling, “we could start tomorrow.”

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com.

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