Students and staff at the Richmond Avenue School in Atlantic City returned to classes Wednesday in a brand new building that has something for everyone to love.
But overcrowding remains a problem in other city schools, and the old Brighton Avenue School may not be empty for long. School Superintendent Donna Haye said the district would like to reopen Brighton Avenue as soon as possible to relieve overcrowding at the Sovereign Avenue and Texas Avenue schools.
On Wednesday, Haye joined school staff and students in celebrating the opening of the new Richmond Avenue School.
Physical education teacher Janine Krizauskas is thrilled with the full-size gym that will allow staff to expand the after-school intramural sports program.
“And the basketballs won’t hit the rafters,” she said, as they did in the makeshift “attic” gym they had been using at their temporary site at the Brighton Avenue School.
Seventh-grade math teacher Gary Jerue, who has spent several of his 12 years teaching in a trailer, is thrilled to have a real classroom with computers and an electronic smart board.
“We made it work where we were,” he said. “But the technology here is such a big leap. It really brings the magic back to teaching.”
A class of kindergartners was giddy in anticipation of climbing the colorful new playground equipment. Their teacher, Megan Perna, is delighted to have both a bathroom and water fountain connected to the classroom.
“They don’t have to leave the room, so I don’t have to be worried about them,” she said.
Her new classroom is in the same corner location as her classroom in the old school, and she said it feels like returning home.
The sunny day brought in lots of natural light, even in stairwells, where huge windows looked out over the city. The 125,000-square-foot, $25 million school takes up an entire city block on Ventnor Avenue between Windsor and Richmond avenues. Designed to hold about 550 to 600 students in grades pre-K through 8th, it is currently housing about 500. Preschool will be added in September.
The Atlantic City Free Public Library will also have a 3,000-square-foot branch at the corner of the building, as it did in the old school, which was torn down in November 2009. The library has closed a temporary location at 3001 Atlantic Ave. in preparation to reopen at the new site in about a month, library director Maureen Frank said Wednesday. She said the site will have a current collection and 20 computers for public use.
“We’re already getting calls about it,” Frank said. “It will be a great complement to the school media center.”
School Principal Garbrielle Caldwell said about 100 parents showed up Wednesday morning hoping for a look inside, but were asked to wait until everyone has a chance to settle in. The school will hold an open house in a few weeks, and an official ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held in February.
Caldwell and Haye said it is amazing to see all the things modern schools have today that were not in the older schools, including 75 security cameras, computer labs and air conditioning.
“And did I mention the elevator?” Caldwell said, noting she still tries to take the stairs for exercise.
Sixth-graders got their first experience with lockers as media specialist Ron Buckbee gave small groups of students their locker numbers and combinations, then talked them through how to open the locks.
It took Iffathara Chowdhury, 12, a few tries, but she finally got hers opened and stuffed in her coat and backpack.
While Brighton Avenue School may be almost a century old, it may not be empty for long. The district spent about $1.5 million in upgrades so the school could be used during the Richmond Avenue School construction, and about 400 students in grades K-6 could be moved to Brighton Avenue from Texas Avenue and Sovereign Avenue schools. Haye said they have sent a letter to the Atlantic County Office of Education outlining the plan.
“We left everything in place at Brighton so there are 22 classrooms ready to go,” Haye said.
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