When classes begin at Buchanan Elementary School this August, students and teachers will walk into 16 new classrooms, new art and music rooms and cafeteria, and a spacious new gym. The addition to the Southwest Side school is part of the $175 million bond approved by Grand Rapids voters in 2015.
Also in the works is renovation of seven classrooms, two computer labs and the media center, new playgrounds, and a new front office and secure school entry, all air-conditioned. The $13.8 million project dramatically upgrades the old neighborhood school, a cultural center that educated about 470 students this year and provides bilingual services to English-language learners.
At an open house celebrating the project’s first phase, Principal Evelyn Ortiz told a group of teachers, students and neighbors the improvements are “a huge blessing” for the school. The addition will increase capacity to about 550 students, allow for two full-day pre-kindergarten classrooms, and provide a safer environment for learning with state-of-the-art technology, Ortiz said.
“Our children, their heart is so full of excitement,” she said. “They’re right there and passionate about learning.” Her students come from different areas of a highly mobile community, she added, but “Once they are here, they don’t want to leave.”
Arla Riemersma, 66, who attended the school as a child, was impressed by the new building.
“I think it’s beautiful,” she said. “The neighborhood’s changed, and there’s a lot of kids in the neighborhood. They deserve a good school.”