From the outside, College Hill Elementary School looks pretty much the way teachers left it last August, after a fire damaged much of the building days before school was set to begin.
Inside, after more than $5 million in repairs and upgrades, it looks and feels significantly different.
“It was a functional building, but it was a 1970s building,” said David Banks, energy director for the Wichita school district, who on Thursday helped guide members of the media on a tour of the school, at First and Clifton.
“This provided a chance to make some needed upgrades, bring areas up to current code, that sort of thing.”
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Changes include a new air-conditioning system, humming quietly in a courtyard outside the cafeteria, that cools the building more consistently and efficiently, Banks said. The new air-conditioning system and reworked ventilation, along with a switch from electric to natural gas heat, should reduce utility costs by 25 to 30 percent, he said.
Twenty-two of the school’s 26 classrooms and the library sustained heavy damage from fire, smoke or water, Banks said. Now they sport new carpet, new light fixtures and freshly painted walls. Each of the renovated classrooms has an interactive projector and upgraded wiring for computers and other technology.
Bathroom doors and stalls have been widened to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. New hallway doors have magnetic holds tied to the fire system, which automatically close when the alarm goes off, to keep flames from spreading. New hallway light fixtures make for brighter corridors and common areas.
And coming next week: new desks, chairs, tables and other classroom furniture.
“Lots of upgrades, lots of improvements,” Kathleen Patterson, the school’s principal, said Thursday. “I think (teachers and students) are going to love it.”
Teachers and staff members will have optional work days this summer to move into their newly renovated classrooms and get ready for the school year. Last year the school held classes at the former Bryant Elementary School, near Ninth and West, which they dubbed “College Hill West.”
The school is planning a celebration Aug. 8 to mark its return to the neighborhood, as well as to finally show off its new gymnasium and storm shelter. The $1.7 million gym, completed last summer as part of the 2008 bond issue, was supposed to have been dedicated last summer, the day of the fire.
“I still have the plaque in my car,” Patterson said. “I’ve been carrying it around with me, just waiting.”
The school’s latchkey program has been using the cafeteria and other undamaged parts of the building. But the new multipurpose room is stacked with boxes, classroom furniture and construction equipment – a temporary staging and storage area since the fire.
“It’s going to be so nice to get in here and finally get to use this,” Patterson said, glancing around the new gym.
The first day back for students is Aug. 12.
“I think they’re going to be excited to be back home,” she said.