Students started classes in Florence on Monday with first-day jitters, new drop-off routes, a new playground, new buildings and extra excitement.
Florence-Carlton Superintendent Brian Rayburn said it was a successful first day.
“The new building is a great addition to our campus and the students are settling in,” he said. “There are always hiccups on the first day of school and throwing a new building into the mix adds a few more challenges. Our custodial/maintenance crew has been great at responding to the needs of teachers and students.”
School started a week later than expected to allow time for teachers to move into their rooms and get set up for the school year. Rayburn said the late start will not change the school calendar because they had a few buffer days built in but snow days may make an impact.
The construction is complete enough for school to begin but not everything is finished. Construction will continue through the year. Storage cabinetry in the elementary building, soundproofing in the band room, the full kitchen, performance stage, multipurpose room, grass and additional play structures for the playground and more are still under construction.
“We’ve got work to do,” Rayburn said. “It will be good when it is all done. Our contractors have been very good about delivering more than we asked for on time. They have been ahead of schedule and really delivering.”
The playground has pea-gravel this year but next summer will have grass and additional play structures. The drop-off area and parking lot are nearing completion and will help accommodate more fans during athletic games.
The new entryway to the Elementary School faces the west and has a secure entrance vestibule with locking doors, visibility by staff and a visitor sign-in station. The principal’s office, nurse’s office and welcome center are right up front.
The Florence-Carlton students are still being fed from the former kitchen/concession stand but the new professional kitchen and multipurpose room with cafeteria tables, rubberized gym floor and stage will be completed soon. Bleachers will pull into place for stage performances or lunch tables will be set up for meals.
“We’re waiting for the foam for the walk-in cooler and walk-in freezer,” Rayburn said. “With all the logistics of getting things delivered, that is the one thing holding us up.”
The new facility will feed the entire school, but with enrollment currently at 850, meals will still be served in shifts.
“Most of the high school students go off campus for lunch, they like that,” Rayburn said.
Florence Band Director Jennifer Kirby said the new band room is equipped with a sink for instrument repairs, three sound-proof practice rooms and quick access to performance areas, but adding storage space and sound-absorbing materials on the walls is “a work in progress.”
“It will get there soon,” she said. “I’m looking for the pluses. It is a little bit smaller but with easy access to the stage, pep band area and football field.”
The new wood shop and metals shop are nearly completed and attached to the classroom.
“The computers in the classroom will tie right into the CNC routers,” Rayburn said. “We had a shop before but this is more up-to-date.”
The weight room, fitness center and art room are currently under construction.
“We had to pick and choose what got completed so we could open school,” Rayburn said. “Our art room is in another area.”
The life skills room, learning center and resource room were full of activity on Tuesday.
The elementary school has wide halls for flex-space learning. Teachers have the option to send students to workspace in the hall for independent or group work.
“All the rooms are equipped with a microphone that the teacher wears,” Rayburn said. “Then each area will have a speaker so the teachers can talk to her students in the hall. There will be close supervision with our support staff.”
The library is not completed but the open design is in place. The books are still in the old library.
“We’ve seen some growth and are at capacity so have saved our K-2 building, knowing that we are growing,” Rayburn said.
Elementary Principal Chrissy Hulla said the new building is “exciting.”
“It’s beautiful,” she said. “Grades K-2 are downstairs and 3-5 are upstairs.”
The rooms are a bit smaller, the halls are wider and storage is coming.
“We’ll have student lockers and teacher cubbies and cool furniture out in the open space,” Hulla said. “It was a long wait. I started in 2001 just after the bond failed for the third time.”
The building meets ADA code with an elevator and a “LULA lift,” a Limited Use/Limited Application wheelchair lift that is smaller than a commercial elevator. Big bathrooms on each floor with sinks outside make monitoring easier. This is the first year for some teachers to have rooms with windows and for some to have windows that open.
Before school started the elementary school had an open house and parent Q&A sessions.
“It was online and we could show the traffic pattern and answer any questions,” Rayburn said. “We encourage people to always ask.”
Voters in the Florence-Carlton School District passed the nearly $16 million bond to renovate and expand the school to meet the educational and safety needs of students in 2018.
Rayburn said that with bids coming in lower than expected they plan to use the extra money for retrofitting the 1962 building to make it more usable for middle school.
“Right now it is chopped up for smaller rooms but we’ll make a middle school lab and classroom space,” Rayburn said. “Every building built back in the day has asbestos so as we’re hitting those things we’re removing that. It is good to do a construction project to get rid of those things.”
As for COVID precautions, Florence-Carlton currently has a “mask optional but recommended” policy.
“We do not have the same ability to contact trace as last year so our COVID numbers are probably not as accurate as they could be,” Rayburn said.