On what once was the site of the century-old Richmond Avenue School in Atlantic City, a new three-story structure has slowly been rising in its place.
Now, after three and a half years, the new $25 million Richmond Avenue School is opening its doors to students Wednesday — and for staff and students “it’s like Christmas,” Principal Gabrielle Caldwell said.
“We’re getting a new start,” Caldwell said. “We’re all very excited.”
Caldwell gave a tour of the 125,000-square-foot facility during Christmas week, as workers were putting the finishing touches on its many rooms and hallways.
“I’m going to show you some things that will definitely be new to them,” said Caldwell, walking into the gymnasium. “This is a full-sized gym, which we’ve never had.”
The school’s new mascot, the Stingray — changed from the Hornets to accentuate the school’s closeness to the ocean — will watch over the students from the scoreboard.
“This is awesome,” she said. “This is what what every child dreamed of.”
In the neighboring cafetorium, a bit of the old school still remains in the plaster bas-relief sculpture panels on either side.
“We wanted to bring a bit of the old school to the new,” Caldwell said, a choice that included another plaster sculpture above a fireplace in the new media center. The baby grand piano up on stage, however, is brand new.
“The music teacher is thrilled,” she said. “He can’t wait to play that baby grand.”
The school will also have vocal and instrumental music rooms for the first time, as well as an art room already stocked with supplies.
“We pretty much started the moving procedure the first week of December,” Caldwell said. “All the classrooms are ready to go.”
There are three rooms for every grade level from pre-K through eighth grade, although the pre-K program doesn’t begin at the facility until September. The school will house between 525 and 550 students when they return this week — an increase from the old school, which had about 400 students when it closed in 2009.
“We’re moving to the 21st century in technology, and we now have eight computers in every classroom,” Caldwell said. “Prior to that, it couldn’t handle the wiring.”
The computers will also get students acquainted with the different types of desktops — younger students will have Macs, with the older ones getting PCs.
The new school also features some great views. From its location in the middle of Lower Chelsea, the ocean can be glimpsed from the brand new science lab on the third floor, while the media center/library, with its wall-to-ceiling windows, overlooks the casinos and high rises on the Boardwalk.
“Just to have a media center of our own will be a blessing,” Caldwell said. “This will be a staple of our school.”
The media center isn’t scheduled to open until mid-January, but most of the elements were in place — including a large plastic tree in the younger children’s area.
That isn’t the only colorful element at the school. Richmond Avenue also has its own play area for the first time, with basketball courts for the older students and playsets for the younger ones.
Caldwell also made sure to visit one room she and the staff have much appreciation for: the maintenance room.
“The old school was built in 1909,” she said. “It had a lot of character, but it lacked air (conditioning) — and was very hot.”
Students had been bused to the Brighton Avenue School while the school was under construction, she said, and parents aren’t too sad to not have to deal with that anymore. Still, she said, “Some of us cried before Christmas break, knowing this was going to be the last time we went through those halls. ... That school was good to us. The staff embraced us, and we absolutely loved being housed at Brighton Avenue.”
When students enter the school Wednesday, they will pass over a painted map of the world in the front lobby.
“They asked us to choose something for our floor, and we thought a map of the world will represent all of us,” Caldwell said. “We’re such a diverse school, and our children are from all over the world.”
Superintendent Donna Haye, after a tour of her own Monday, also had high hopes for the facility.
“It looks beautiful,” Haye said. “I think staff and students will be thrilled. It’s a beautiful facility for learning. I hope everyone enjoys it and hope the children can be lifelong learners in that building. The children have waited a long time — originally the school was going to open in September — and they’ve been patient.”
After a tour through the spotless facility, it almost seems a shame to see 500 boisterous kids make their way through.
“But you know, they’re going to bring life into this building,” Caldwell said. “They’re going to make it a school.”
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