Renovated Building ‘Feels Like a Brand-New School’

First Day Excites Students, Parents, Teachers

Rebecca White snaps a memory picture of her second-grade son, Aiden, on his first day of school

Just after taking their seats in the newly renovated Alpine Elementary School, LeAnn’s Smoes’ fourth-graders piped up when she asked what they liked about it.

“New clocks!” one said. “The rooms are huge,” offered another. “These desks are so new!” exclaimed a boy. “First-day jitters, here we come,” a girl announced.

Alpine’s freshly painted and carpeted hallways and classrooms were jittery with excitement Monday, as its 400 or so students returned for the first day of school to a renewed building. Alpine underwent a $7.2 million renovation over the summer, sporting everything from new classroom furniture, lighting and ceilings to a new secure front entrance, parent drop-off area and bus loop.  A new front office was added, and a new gym is still under construction.

The Kenowa Hills Knight roamed the halls welcoming students, including kindergartner Dylan Torres

In other words, pretty much new everything.

“It feels like a brand-new school,” said Smoes, who’s taught fourth grade here for 19 years in the same classroom. “A new beginning is what it feels like, and it’s real exciting.”

A new roof and updated playground equipment also were part of the upgrade, paid for with a $55 million bond issue approved by voters in 2016. Also ready on opening day were a more secure entrance, tennis courts, baseball dugouts and a remodeled front office at the high school.  Further improvements of district schools are planned through 2020.

Security was a key feature of the bond, and one parents at Alpine appreciated. Visitors must be admitted to the front office before they can enter the building, there are more cameras, and combination digital clocks and pagers can flash lights and messages in an emergency.

Carmen Zuniga proudly poses with her daughter, Amy Perez, on their way into school

Safety Top Concern

“It seems like it’s going to be much safer,” said Tara Triezenberg, as her third-grade daughter, Grace, got to work with pencil and Play-Doh. “You can walk right in the front door and come in.”

Parents used to drop their students off in a busy parking lot on the south side, from which students had to walk through a long hallway past several classrooms. Now parents use their own lot facing Baumhoff Avenue NW, while buses drop students off at a separate loop northeast of the building.

Safety and security were top priorities in winning approval of the bond issue, said Principal Jason Snyder.

“When we listened to the community, that was the No. 1 thing that came through,” Snyder said, adding modern classroom furniture will “impact learning for students in a positive way. … I couldn’t be more thankful (to the community).”

Teachers got their rooms ready in a hurry over the previous few days, as other teachers, parents and administrators helped to unpack boxes and place furniture and desks. Workers overseen by general contractor Owen Ames Kimball put in long hours to get the building ready on time.

LeAnn Smoes was pleased with the results, and her students were too.

“It looks welcoming and clean,” Smoes said of her classroom. “I think students will feel it’s theirs.”

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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