A nearly $4 million renovation project at two local elementary schools has wrapped up just in time for the start of school, allowing students to start the year in new and improved facilities designed to enhance their learning experiences.

Construction began last fall at Southside Elementary, located on the southwestern side of the city at 1320 W. County Road 200S, and Rockcreek Elementary, southeast of Columbus on 13000 E. County Road 200S. Approximately $2 million was allocated to both schools to add extra classrooms and restroom facilities to accommodate their growing number of students.

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Superintendent Jim Roberts said many of BCSC’s 11 elementary schools are close to or at full capacity while the middle and high schools have a little more room.

Southside and Rockcreek were among the schools that were at full capacity, with 953 and 373 students enrolled last year, according to the Indiana Department of Education.

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Southside retrofitting

Renovations at Southside were focused on making better use of the school’s existing space, Principal Jeff Backmeyer said.The elementary school was once a middle school, which means its lowest level was equipped with large locker and shower rooms for students changing for gym class or sports teams, Backmeyer said.

But such facilities are not necessary for elementary school students, who generally do not change for gym class, he said. So, one set of locker rooms was converted into four new classrooms on the building’s main level.

The other set was used to expand the lower-level restroom facilities, which Backmeyer said were quite small. With the expansion, the downstairs restrooms are now large enough to accommodate all students and staff working on that level, the principal said.

“We really just took a giant unused space and made it usable,” he said.

Instead of full-size locker rooms, smaller changing rooms were installed near the building’s gym to better match the needs of elementary-level physical education.

The building’s second floor also gained new learning space when two computer labs that were designed for middle school students were redesigned into instructional areas, Backmeyer said.

But the biggest upgrade to the school’s second level was installation of a universal sprinkler system, he said.

Previously, there was no sprinkler system on the second floor, which meant students in kindergarten, first- and second-grade classrooms had to be placed on the lower floor. But now the entire building is equipped with a sprinkler system, so Backmeyer said he has more flexibility in locations of classrooms throughout the building.

“The key to the project was safety,” he said.

The final update to Southside Elementary was replacing the boilers, which Backmeyer described as ancient. Installing new boilers will make the building much more energy efficient, he said.

The additional classrooms that were installed on the lowest level and the flexibility to put younger students on the second floor will provide more breathing room throughout the building, Backmeyer said.

Specifically, having extra classrooms on the main floor will allow the school to add a second preschool room, Backmeyer said. Two of the four main-level rooms were intentionally designed to accommodate smaller furniture meant for 4-year-old students, he said.

The additional space comes at an opportune time. Southside, the district’s largest elementary school, could see a slight enrollment increase for the 2016-17 school year, Backmeyer said.

Additions at Rockcreek

Unlike Southside, which renovated existing space, the Rockcreek project involved adding on four additional classrooms and adult and student restroom facilities, said Jennifer Dettmer, Rockcreek principal.Although it is one of BCSC’s three smallest elementary schools, Rockcreek had reached its full capacity last year, she said.

But with the four additional classrooms — which will be used for third- and fourth-grade students — Dettmer said Rockcreek is no longer at capacity and students and teachers will have more room to spread out. The school’s enrollment count will likely not change much this year, the principal said.

“This gives us some elbow room,” she said. “We didn’t have any extra space, but now this allows us to have a little extra room.”

Although construction at both elementary schools was completed during the school year, the principals said there were minimal disruptions to student learning.

At each school, the principals said the contractors and construction crews were cognizant of their noise levels and how they might affect the school day.

“They did a very nice job about being aware of the kids and putting kids first,” Dettmer said.

For example, Backmeyer said that the construction crews at Southside stopped all daytime work on the school during the testing periods for the ISTEP+ exam in the spring. Additionally, Backmeyer said the crews took advantage of scheduled school breaks to complete some of the noisiest work, such as demolishing the locker rooms.

Although both schools underwent significant renovations, both Backmeyer and Dettmer said they are confident their students will easily be able to acclimate to their schools’ new layouts.

Many of the students witnessed the construction processes as they were in progress, so the principals said the students will likely be excited to see the finished product when they return to school on Wednesday.

Conversations have already begun among BCSC leaders about which schools the district should focus on renovating next, Roberts said. Although there are no leading contenders yet, the superintendent said the recent housing development on the city’s west side, where the district owns land that could be used for a new school, could be a factor in decisions.

The district commissioned both a facilities study and an enrollment study last year to get an idea of which schools will need the most improvements based on the number of students expected to attend in the Columbus-based district.

The data seems to point toward a continued increase in elementary school enrollment, so district leaders are looking closely at possible improvements to the nine other public elementary schools, Roberts said.

About the projects

Southside

Renovations to Southside Elementary School focused on making better use of space. The improvements included:

  • Large locker rooms on lower level converted into four classrooms
  • Large locker rooms on lower level converted into large restrooms
  • Four changing rooms added near the gym
  • Two physical education offices added near the gym
  • Computer labs on second level converted into classrooms
  • Installed sprinkler systems across all of second level
  • Installed new boilers

Rockcreek

Renovations to Rockcreek added on additional space to the building, including:

  • Four new classrooms for third and fourth graders
  • New adult and student restroom facilities
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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.