BELDING — Ellis Elementary School has seen some major changes since April when new walls were put up and old ones were torn down.
On Monday, staff, students and parents stood in awe as they toured the new facilities during the school’s official open house.
“This is all nice and new stuff, it looks great,” said Belding resident and parent Jamie Fasset as her two children played on the new playground equipment. “It looks beautiful, they did a really good job. There’s a big difference from what this looked like before, it looks like it will be a lot more fun.”
Five new classrooms were constructed during the spring and summer, along with an outdoor courtyard for hands-on learning, which features a pond, river and waterfall.
According to Ellis Elementary School Principal Tiffany Jackson, the outdoor area will serve as a science center that will aid in teaching students about the water cycle.
“It will be something that the kids can interact with,” Jackson said. “There is a dam that the kids can lift and fill the reservoir areas with, there will be plants that they can attend to with the chance to plant new plants and create butterfly gardens and there will also be a water wheel that will be installed soon.
“We’re teaching a new common core curriculum, it’s a new way of teaching that involves the children’s families and the community as well,” she said.
As students begin classes next week, they will do so as construction continues on the new west wing of the building, which consists of seven classrooms expected to be completed in December.
“That will be our second grade wing, known as our ‘front porch,’” Jackson said. “There will be outdoor learning labs as well, which we are really excited about.”
Jackson said she was overjoyed with the turnout Monday evening as hundreds of kids and parents gathered for an outdoor cookout in the front of the school that concluded with a ribbon cutting in the new outdoor courtyard.
“We’ve had a really good crowd and the kids have just been so excited,” Jackson said. “It’s so fun to see their smiling faces and hear their ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ over what our building looks like and how it has changed over the summer. These kids are amazed and excited to come back to school and to start learning in our new environment.”
In the meantime, space will be limited for the next few months, but Jackson said the staff is prepared to work together.
“We do have enough space at the moment, however all of our meeting group rooms and our staff from the Ionia ISD will have to mesh into other classrooms and work out of my office, so even I will be sharing,” she said. “Everyone is very willing to be very flexible until construction is complete.”
Belding Area Schools Superintendent Sara Shriver said she was pleased to see students smiling as they greeted their new teachers around the surroundings of their new school.
“I see excited parents, kids and staff and I couldn’t ask for anything different,” Shriver said. “The construction is on progress and we are ready to open for the first day of school. It’s not going to be perfect, but it’s going to be ready. The maintenance crews, the teachers, everyone, has been doing all they can, nights and weekends, to make sure everything is in tip-top shape for kids when they come next Tuesday.”
Shriver, along with most of the students and parents, agreed that the new outdoor courtyard seemed to be the highlight of the new construction to the elementary school.
“I’ve never seen an outdoor learning center like this in my 22 years in the education field,” she said. “I think this is just absolutely incredibly that we have something that can offer hands on learning for the kids, allowing them to make some real life connections.”
The construction at Ellis Elementary School is part of a $38 million bond project for the district that was approved by voters in 2010. About $8 million of the bond was used for Ellis Elementary School, which is a K-2 school and serves about 400 students per year.