Wichita's new Dodge Literacy Magnet impresses on opening day

Renee Kohlhagen tries to be kind when she recalls the old school building where she spent the past decade — the recently demolished Dodge Literacy Magnet Elementary.

But looking around her new school, an $8 million bond project that opened Wednesday in west Wichita, the fifth-grade teacher couldn't find much to miss about the old place.

Not the mildew smell after every rainstorm.

Not the cracked walls or rotted door frames.

Not the window air conditioners or dehumidifiers that droned all day, or the sheets hung in classrooms to hide piles of supplies.

"It's wonderful to have a facility like this," Kohlhagen said, looking around at the school's gleaming new library, its reading area painted bright blues and greens. "Just wonderful."

Three years ago, Dodge was a poster child for Wichita's $370 million bond issue in 2008. Principal Janet Jump and school board members gave tours of the deteriorating school, pointing out water damage, patched ceilings and heater fans so old and loud that they sounded, Jump said, "like an ambulance going by."

On Wednesday, students and parents filed into the new school building — the first built with 2008 bond money — that Jump says "will change the way teachers teach and students learn."

The 64,595-square-foot school was built for 450 students and features two music rooms, an art room, a computer lab, a library and a gymnasium that doubles as a storm shelter. It was built adjacent to the old Dodge school, at 4801 W. Second, which was demolished in June to create parking and playground space.

The school was designed by Spangenberg Phillips Tice Architecture. Simpson & Associates Inc. was the general contractor.

Natural lighting and automatic lights cut costs while brightening the overall look of the school. Classrooms have smart boards, bookshelves and closets with ample storage space. Those in the pre-K through first-grade wing have restrooms accessible from every classroom.

"We're just so incredibly grateful," said Jump, the principal.

Fifth-grader Payton Coleman said she likes "the colors and the clean walls" of the new school building.

Ruby Urbano, whose daughter attended pre-K at the old school, said the new Dodge is "a whole lot nicer."

"Just a nice, new, clean building.... It even smells good," Urbano said after dropping daughter Leandra at her kindergarten class.

Teachers spent much of the first day helping students learn their way around the building. They visited the nurse's office (now featuring a working sink), the cafeteria (that's "Dodge Diner" to you), the library, art and music rooms.

"Just like they're new, I'm new to this building as well," said Kohlhagen, the fifth-grade teacher. "So we're all learning together."

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