leaders officially opened the newly renovated Friday after teachers and workers spent the week before school finishing tasks needed to start school Tuesday.
The $19.6 million renovation of the school, a former junior high built in 1963, took more than a year. It was the last of a series of infrastructure improvements undertaken by the school district when it closed and consolidated three elementary schools.
"We've sort of been at the construction phase for 15 years," said school board President Ed Wielgus at Friday's ceremony. "This is our last, and its certainly our crown jewel."
All of the district's buildings are now up-to-date, he said.
"Finally, we're done," he said.
The K-6 school will hold up to 650 students — 520 are enrolled this year. The renovation included an expansion of the original building, adding an administrative wing and nurses suite, an art room and four kindergarten classes. Windows were added in the gymnasium and new lighting and a new sound system to the auditorium. A full quarter-mile track and field is being constructed behind the school to be used by the North Hills Athletics Department and the surrounding community.
The old sixth-grade wing was leveled and turned into a parking area, doubling the number of spaces from the original 70. Lanes for buses, cars and school vans were all separated to improve the morning and afternoon traffic.
A water-themed design was used throughout the school, with blues, teals and tans used to evoke waves on the floor, water splashes on the walls and boardwalk entrances to the classrooms.
Two courtyards with ponds and water features have also been installed, providing outdoor classroom areas and water views from inside the building.
The school library, which is about a third bigger than the old, also received the addition of a reading nook shaped like a ship.
"I love it," said Jane Sestric, the school librarian. "It's such a great space for the kids. It's open. It's bright. It's going to be calming for the kids."
Classrooms have also all been equipped with wireless Internet and the tools to turn teaching lessons into interactive lessons, said Principal David Lieberman.
Though the school is ready to accept students, some finishing touches are still being added and work is expected to continue for the next few weeks, Lieberman said.
“Will all the fine details be done? Not quite,” Lieberman said, adding that the crew will switch to working at night to finish the job after classes start Tuesday.
For sixth-grade teacher Kristen Pollaro, returning to the school to teach is coming full circle. She attended the school as a student when it was a junior high.
She said the renovations are "amazing."
"There's nothing better than being at the beach all year long," she said.