When students returned to Kingston Elementary School Wednesday morning, it was with a noticeable absence on campus — one that Bartow County Board of Education District 5 representative Anna Sullivan found more than welcome.
"This really is a wonderful day for us, because up to this point, we've been spending some time on those trailers," she said at Monday afternoon's ribbon-cutting ceremony to commemorate the addition of about 8,500 square feet to Kingston Elementary's footprint. "One of the goals has been that we get rid of those, because we wanted all of our students to be all together in the building."
Along with eliminating the need for any more portable units at KES, the $2.2 million investment also adds four fifth-grade classrooms, two instructional-support classrooms, restrooms, a book room and a teacher work room to the facility, with the remaining funding allocated to updating HVAC units and creating a firetruck turnaround space on campus.
"Our new wing is spacious and beautiful, and we appreciate the county's dedication to providing our students these classrooms as well as outfitting these classrooms with state of the art technology and durable, new furniture," said KES Principal Philena Johnson. "Our teachers and students are pleased to move out of the portables and into the building. Please note that appreciation is even greater on cold, wet, north Georgia winter days."
Considering construction has been ongoing at Kingston Elementary for several months, Sullivan said she's sure Johnson has "woke up with nightmares of being chased by giant bulldozers or enormous clouds of dust." Although KES teachers may have occasionally longed for a set of earmuffs while the wing was being built, Sullivan said the finished product no doubt made all of those earlier distractions worth it.
"I am so excited that we can expand this building, and although I came in, certainly, on the end of this, a lot of people put on a tremendous amount of hard work into making this happen," said Bartow County School System Superintendent Dr. Phillip Page. "I get to stand here today and be a part of it, and I'm very thankful for that."
Monday's ceremony was a homecoming of sorts for outgoing Bartow Board of Education member Dr. Davis Nelson, who once served a four-year stint as Kingston Elementary's principal.
"Kingston holds a lot of wonderful memories for me," he said. "Many, many years ago, when the school was across the highway in downtown Kingston, it had one hall, four classrooms on one side, four classrooms on the other, a lunchroom at the end, an office and a media center in the front ... so you could not get lost, until you went outside to the massive number of portable classrooms."
At the time, the K-8 school had 480 students — of which all but 125 were instructed inside trailers. The current Kingston Elementary School facility was built several years later, this time when Nelson was serving as superintendent of Bartow County's school system.
"We didn't have SPLOST back then, so we had to do a bond referendum, where the voters had to vote themselves a tax increase to build schools, and they did it by 83 percent," he recounted. "The school has gone through lots of changes through the years. It picked up portable classrooms again ... much to everybody's dismay. But the funding was not there to keep up with the growth across the county, but I feel very happy and blessed for this community to be able now to look and see that all of your boys and girls are inside the facility, all of your staff are inside the facility and you can do what you need to do for the boys and girls."
The 2018-19 school year marks the first in about a dozen years that students at KES haven't had to use portable classrooms. But the Eagles' new wing isn't just about improving aesthetics and logistics, Johnson said. Indeed, she said she expects the all-indoor classes arrangement to have a substantial impact on several aspects of the school.
"The addition of a new wing allows all students and teachers to work in closer proximity, promoting collaboration and a strong sense of community," she said. "This space will be used to continue our commitment to meeting the needs of all students in order to provide our children with a firm academic foundation."