When Longfellow Elementary students walk into their school Thursday for the first day, they’ll be greeted with a refreshed look.
Maintenance staff with Scottsbluff Public Schools has been hard at work over the summer months, undertaking a large remodeling project that involved installing new carpet, building new cabinetry and even a new paint scheme at Longfellow. Staff also spent the summer finishing up work at Roosevelt Elementary school.
The school district started a project to revitalize each of the district’s elementary schools, one at a time, starting with Roosevelt in the summer of 2021. Though there are some similarities in the work that will be done at each of the schools, Melissa Price, director of communications for Scottsbluff schools, said the projects are tailored to each school’s needs.
“Each one of these buildings is unique,” she said, noting that each of the elementary schools are older buildings that have been modernized. For example, Longfellow Elementary was constructed in 1929 and the annex building was added as part of a school bond issue passed in 1957 that included construction of the high school. “And there are just little things that are different at each of them.”
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Lukas Benzel, who will also be starting anew as Longfellow’s newest principal, praised the work that has been done to revitalize the school. The school’s new interior color scheme, red and gray with touches of black, had been selected by a team of district staff. Roosevelt Elementary has a similar color scheme.
New carpet tiles have given new life, and added touches of safety, at both schools.
“Everything looks great together,” Benzel said as he walked down the halls during a recent tour of the school “…The paint really freshened it up. The carpet is the biggest change, if you have been in here before and not seen it with carpet.”
The brown tiled floors that once lined the halls have now been covered by carpet tiles. Carpet tiles are useful because they can be replaced as needed, Price said. Many classrooms got new carpet. At entryways, carpets in those areas will reduce chances of slips and falls. Improvements have also been made, such as the construction of ramps to replace steps to make them more accessible. Both schools are also two stories, and new tiling and other improvements have been made.
In both schools, new cabinetry has been constructed in classrooms throughout the school. With skilled staff, cabinets and coat areas are custom built in both schools, adding a special touch for useful functions such as storing teacher supplies or providing a place for kids to hang their coats and bags.
At both schools, the gym is a center for a lot of activities – from playing for P.E. classes, serving as a cafeteria and even a place for music programs. New gym floors were installed at both schools, really impacting those spaces.
“Our contractors did a great job,” Benzel said, praising the work done on the Longfellow gym floor, which gleamed and made it more welcoming.
The changes in the Roosevelt Elementary were also a game changer, Principal Frances Burkhalter said.
“When I walked in here the first time (after the floor and painting were done), I was like ‘Whoa,’” she said. “The old floor was just really, really dingy. … I really think this creates an environment that’s brighter, which engages kids. I know that sometimes we think that aesthetics doesn’t really matter, but it does. You’re in a place where you feel like somebody has taken time to create a space that you’re comfortable. It’s a whole lot easier to learn. So if you’re in a space like this, don’t you kind of want to play basketball or run. It impacts them, inspiring them to be active.
The library at Roosevelt is another area of which Burkhalter is proud, saying she feels it has been crafted in a way that makes it more inviting. The space is now designed so it can be a flexible and functional learning space, while also feeling like a library where kids can enjoy sitting on ottomans and reading a story. Shelves and a circulation desk are able to be moved, and care was taken to find furniture that would echo curves in each of the pieces. The orientation of the space was also changed, with a classroom space with the latest interactive boards at the front of the classroom. The digital boards that combine the best of a white board and a smart board are throughout the school and allow teachers to project their lessons, children to interact as if working on a large iPad and more.
One of the first things that visitors will notice to both Longfellow and Roosevelt schools is that entryway areas and offices have been redone. When possible, Burkhalter said, materials have been reused with staff ever cognizant of keeping costs reasonable and responsible. That intentional reuse of materials at Roosevelt inspired entryway improvements at Roosevelt and Longfellow when Burkhalter sought to move French doors that had been used at the entryway of the office to the school.
School officials liked the design so much that they decided to emulate it Longfellow Elementary, Price said. In fact, doors from Roosevelt will be installed at Longfellow in its new office space.
Also at Roosevelt, a small conference room for teachers also had been designed with the intent of creating a new space, but refurbishing materials. Floor to ceiling cabinets were re-used in that project. At Longfellow, classrooms in one area of the school were refurbished to establish a health center area that establishes more privacy for the school nurse and a science classroom.
“We had some places where we really needed to look at repurposing space,” Benzel said. “We had some giant singular rooms, and we thought, “OK, what is best to fit our needs?”
By making use of existing space and refurbishing it, it will be more conducive for those functions, Benzel said. For example, the school nurse could use more privacy when meeting with kids and parents, so a space for her, with a bathroom that is adjacent, made sense. Large windows in the science classroom will make it a great space for projects that students will do to learn about plants.
Projects have also sought to create a more kid-friendly atmosphere. Classrooms are now all outfitted with sound systems, which Burkhalter said are designed to make it a more conducive learning environment for children. No matter where a child is sitting in the classroom, they’ll be able to hear their teachers.
It’s also out with the old and in with the new when it comes to furniture at the Longfellow and Roosevelt Elementary. Furniture is more kid-friendly. Gone are old wooden desks with chairs affixed or tables with plastic and uncomfortable chairs. Desks and tables throughout the school can be adjusted to different heights, depending on the ages of the students. There are also non-traditional chairs, such as rocker chairs, kneel seats and stools, that allow children to sit at their desks, in circles for activities or in groups, in a variety of positions.
“We tried to design classrooms that are very flexible, for activities, for student learning and for student needs,” Burkhalter said.
New desks for teachers are also more flexible, including an extension that teachers can use either as a podium or for more workspace. Even cabinets and desks for teachers are flexible pieces that can be adapted dependent on the teacher’s needs or wants.
“If you were to go from classroom to classroom, each teacher has used the furniture in a different way,” she said.
In tours of the schools, both principals praised the work of the school’s maintenance staff. Summer time is already a busy time of the year for the district’s maintenance crew, Price said. That’s the time of the year that they are tackling repair projects and other work that can’t be done when school is in session. Adding the elementary school projects adds to the summer workload.
Another piece that people may not be familiar with is that the district has its specialized staff on its maintenance crew, such as an electrician, heating/ventilation/air conditioning specialists and others, which helps reduce the cost of the projects. Maintenance crews will work over the Christmas break to complete painting in the Longfellow gym and other projects that need wrapped up.
New playground equipment will be installed at both Roosevelt and Longfellow in the near future.
Next summer, maintenance staff will tackle improvements at Lincoln Heights. The district will also be seeking bids for work in the restrooms at both Longfellow and Roosevelt.