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Most schools have been in session for about a week, but one area school is getting an extra week of summer and a new school.
Elkhorn Valley School in Tilden is starting classes one week later than originally planned—August 22, instead of August 15— due to the construction of their new facility for grades 7-12 and remodeling of the existing elementary building.
“Talking with the construction company, we thought it would be wise to start a week later than scheduled just to get some of the finishing work done in the new building and make sure the remodeling in the 1987 elementary building was as close to completion as possible and still be able to have a normal school day,” said Keith Leckron, Elkhorn Valley superintendent.
He said there is still some work that won’t be done before students arrive on Wednesday.
“It’s not going to get in the way of learning,” Leckron said. “Also, I think our staff and students are kind of used to a bit of extra noise and commotion due to the construction project that’s been going on nearly a year and half now.”
The new 7-12 building has a new kitchen, commons area, shop, weight room, gym, wrestling room, science labs and a greenhouse on top of the shop. He said the major projects that are still unfinished include the weight room and the new four-classroom kindergarten and preschool wing.
“Those aren’t completed and won’t be until this fall, and we knew that at the end of the school year last year that that was a reality,” Leckron said. “In the new building and the 1987 building, it’s things like baseboards, some paint, some caps on windowsills, small things like that. Finishing work that won’t hurt the classrooms. It’s more how things look. It won’t affect the learning process.”
He said the preschool and kindergarten will start the same time as everyone else although the construction on those classrooms isn’t expected to be complete until mid-fall.
“They’ve started the shell, the outer steel,” the superintendent said. “There’s brickwork that hasn’t begun. Concrete’s been poured and all that, but there’s still a lot to do there.”
In the meantime, the preschool and kindergarten classes will temporarily be housed in the 1987 building and the new 7-12 building.
“We’re moving things around, shuffling things around to fit everybody in those two buildings,” Leckron said. “It’s not ideal, it’s not the best thing that we were hoping for, but it’s the best thing we have available. We don’t have portables on site, we’re not moving to a site off campus to hold anyone, so we’re making the best of, I don’t want to call it a bad situation, but a less than perfect situation.”
He said preschool will temporarily be located in what is called a flex room where various 7-12 classes will be held, like health class, CNA class or study halls.
“We had one elementary room that was not being used, that will be used in the future, but this year it’s not, and that’s the kindergarten room,” Leckron said. “And then our choir room is going to be split into temporary dividers to make two classrooms and one large room.”
When the preschool and kindergarten wing is complete, he said those classes will relocate to their new classrooms.
Although some of the construction may not be quite as far along as they had hoped, the staff and students are thrilled with the new facility.
“It’s super exciting. Totally worth the wait,” said Emily Vaughn, a P.E. teacher and coach in her 19th year at Elkhorn Valley. “We weathered quite a storm of low enrollment, one track all the way through elementary, and as classes were getting smaller and teachers were maybe leaving, we were absorbing and finding ways to fill their spots within, and now it’s really fun and exciting to see several teachers being hired back and just getting that double track through elementary.”
Vaughn said she is looking forward to using the extra space the new facility provides.
“Even last year we were finding we had 60 kids in the gym at one time and that was just junior high, and so that was two teachers and maybe a para part-time that was in the gym with us, and you just kind of find that you don’t have enough space and you’re outgrowing that,” she said.
The facility challenges due to increasing enrollment and aging buildings were what led Elkhorn Valley’s school board to discuss options, eventually leading voters to the passage of a $17.225 million bond in July of 2016. The original 1913 building and the 1922 building, which were demolished as part of this project, lacked air conditioning and students were outgrowing the deteriorating space. The upward swing in enrollment was evident by looking at the numbers. The PK-12 enrollment was 275 in 2008-09, and rose to 338 students in 2015-16.