Ameriana Bieber stood in the entryway of her newly renovated school and thoughtfully described what she liked about it.
“I am so excited to be here,” said Ameriana, who’s entering fourth grade at Buchanan Elementary this fall. “This is my favorite school. I’ve been here since kindergarten.”
Besides a fondness for her teachers and reading, she loves the $13.8 million in improvements and additions to the old neighborhood school. So does her father, Francisco Ayala, a Parent Action Leader who came with Ameriana to a ribbon-cutting Aug. 16.
“The new building is wonderful,” Ameriana said. “And I really like the design.”
So did the more than 100 people who attended the ceremony, a day after another large gathering cut the ribbon on the new Public Museum High School. A blistering hot sun highlighted one of Buchanan’s key improvements: air conditioning. The AC got big applause when Principal Evelyn Ortiz mentioned it in her remarks.
“Without your support, this would have been only a dream,” Ortiz told the gathering of neighbors, community supporters, and school and city leaders. “This is your school, and we own it. We love it.”
Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal thanked the community for approving a $175 million bond issue in 2015, which mostly funded the improvements.
“We knew there was a huge need,” Neal said. “We knew the only way to take care of that was to renovate this building, so that it was like new for the children.”
The building sends a message that GRPS is “committed to this community,” which is largely Hispanic, and investing in its children, Neal said. “It says that we want you here and that we believe in you.”
Connecting Children to Nature
About one-quarter of the building is renovated remnants of the old structure and three-quarters is new construction, said Ken Klomparens, executive director of facilities and operations. It includes 16 new classrooms and seven refurbished ones; new gym, art and music rooms; a new kitchen/cafeteria; two computer labs; a media center and a secure front entry.
Now fronting the school are a spacious parking lot and playground, part of a green schoolyard initiative connecting children to nature at four school sites, said Mayor Rosalynn Bliss.
Fifth-grader Kevin Hernandez gave his remade school a thumbs up.
“I like the park. I like the gym,” Kevin said. As for the air conditioning, he said, “It feels fresh.”
His father, Roberto, gave high marks to the school where two of his other children also attend. The family lives close by and his kids play here, so he hoped the playground would be kept clean.
“It’s really beautiful,” Roberto Hernandez said through an interpreter. “It’s going to be a really big change from how it was before.”
Kindergarten teacher Patricia Zellers, a 12-year teacher at Buchanan, said it feels like a new school.
“It’s just amazing for the kids, and for us to have a brand-new facility that we can provide for the whole community,” Zellers said. “Especially with the AC, the kids (will be) able to feel comfortable, therefore the learning is going to happen a lot quicker.
“I believe the way they’re going to feel about coming here every day is going to be 100 percent better than it was before.”