After years of trying to get a school consolidation plan approved by voters, nearly two more years of planning once that vote was passed, and the actual construction throughout the summer, it was with much anticipation that the newly combined Twin Valley Elementary School opened its doors to eager students and parents Monday morning.
Greeted by the smiling faces of teachers and administrative staff, not to mention the smell of fresh paint, about 200 students were ushered to their newly renovated classrooms while parents gathered in the new cafeteria for a quick orientation. After answering a myriad of questions from the parents -- mostly about drop off/pick up procedures and when parents would get to see the rest of the school -- Principal Rebecca Fillion invited everyone to the gymnasium for the first of many all-school assemblies.
Music teacher Darryl Kniffen, with the help of his volunteer student back-up band, led students, parents and staff on several lively songs and dance routines to get everyone's blood pumping and their minds and bodies ready to learn. From there students lined up behind their respective teachers and headed back to their classrooms to settle in to the new school year routine.
With so many parents choosing to drop their children off at school on the first day and come to the orientation, that first hour was a flurry of activity (some might say chaotic, but in a cheerful, exciting way). Nevertheless, the school staff took it all in stride, and by most accounts -- at the school and later on Facebook -- the first day was a resounding success.
"It was so great to watch our students and staff sing and dance together this morning in the first all-school assembly at Twin Valley Elementary School," school board member Seth Boyd wrote on Facebook. "Thank you to our communities for making this happen!"
The post generated dozens of "likes" by Monday night.
"It was an AWESOME first day!!!! Many more to come!!!!" Fillion posted.
"Way to go, TVES!" another poster commented.
And yet another poster: "Wow. School looked awesome inside. Very well designed I thought."
Of course, there was also some constructive criticism offered, most of it focused on the inadequate parking. On Monday morning the newly paved lot was overflowing and many parents were forced to park along Route 100. The fast-moving traffic along that road brings up obvious safety concerns for parents dropping off their little ones.
Tuesday looked to be much better, with more students taking the bus into school, but what about school events that are sure to draw an even bigger crowd of parents, grandparents and others from the community? This issue definitely will have to be addressed in the near future.
Apparently, the building committee value engineered this project to ensure it was on time and on budget. They certainly deserve praise for that, but as a result some hard decisions had to be made, so the additional parking that was planned had to be cut.
"We had to work smart within the budget and the space on the property available -- knowing that the building and classrooms were our priority," Boyd posted on Facebook.
Fortunately, administrators and board members are aware of the problem and promise it will be temporary. One parent suggested renting the field across the street for overflow parking and hiring a crossing guard. That's certainly worth looking into.
The only other disappointment expressed by parents is that they still haven't had a chance to tour the entire school yet. Many are eager to see all the improvements and had hoped there would be an open house before the first day. But with last-minute construction and classroom setup taking place right up through this past weekend, holding an open house just wasn't feasible. But again, school staff is on top of the situation with an open house planned for next Thursday, Sept. 26.
And Fillion has extended the invitation to everyone in the two communities -- not just parents. She can't wait to show off all the improvements and give everyone in Wilmington and Whitingham a sense of ownership at Twin Valley Elementary School.
We encourage everyone to attend and see for themselves what their vote and their tax dollars have given to our Twin Valley community. And we offer our praise to all the hard work that board members, school staff and community volunteers put into making all this happen -- on time and on budget.