As schools have continued to fill, sending some children into portable classrooms this school year, construction started on Center Grove’s newest elementary school.

Work began earlier this fall on the $42 million school off Morgantown Road that can hold up to 850 students, which will provide the school district room to grow, especially in the southern White River Township area where recent growth and development has been concentrated.

Walnut Grove Elementary School will have 45 classrooms, a gymnasium, cafeteria and kitchen, large group instruction room and space for offices and conference rooms for staff. And outside of the 116,000-square-foot school, students will be able to learn about solar energy and the environment, school officials said.

What separates Walnut Grove from the eight other Center Grove schools is its focus on the environment, Center Grove Schools Superintendent Richard Arkanoff said.

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Native prairie grasses around the building will return much of the school’s 57-acre property to what it would have looked like left undeveloped. Bird and bat boxes will provide places for native wildlife, and teachers will be able to incorporate that into their lessons throughout the school year, Arkanoff said.

Walnut Grove will be the first school in the district to rely on solar energy for a portion of its energy. The solar panels, which will cost about $500,000 to purchase and install, are expected to reduce the school’s electric bill by anywhere from 40 to 80 percent, depending on the time of the year, Arkanoff said.

How much money that will save the school has yet to be determined, but the benefit of the solar panels is being measured beyond just smaller utility bills, he said.

Teachers will have access to real-time data about how much energy the panels are generating and how much electricity the school is using, allowing them to show their students the impacts of their activities. And students will be able to go outside to view the panels up close, Arkanoff said.

Nearly all of the land outside of the playground area will be set aside for native grasses, allowing students to have outdoor lessons about nature and the environment, he said. The prairie grass also will allow the school to save money on mowing, which will only need to be done a couple times a year, he said.

Outside of the solar panels, Center Grove has taken other steps to reduce its environmental impact, including using all LED lighting, having automated, motion activated lights and a solar-heated water system, he said.

The design of the school also will provide spaces for students in nearby classrooms to collaborate on projects and activities, and flexible furniture, such as desks and tables that can be pushed together, will provide room for those activities, Arkanoff said.

Crowded classrooms at other Center Grove elementary schools have created the need for the new school, Arkanoff said.

Only one of Center Grove’s five elementary schools — Pleasant Grove — has an empty classroom, and two elementary schools are using portable classrooms to alleviate overcrowding, he said.

Center Grove plans to hire a consultant for redistricting, to determine which students will attend which elementary schools once Harvest Grove opens. The consultants will look at enrollment at the current schools and where new neighborhoods are planned through the district, before determining which students will be attending which schools, Arkanoff said.

While Walnut Grove could eventually be expanded, 850 students is about as many as they would want in one elementary building, he said.

By the numbers

The construction of Walnut Grove Elementary is expected to be complete by the start of the 2019-20 school year. Here’s a look at some details about the building:

$42 million: cost of the project

116,000 square feet: size of the two-story building

57 acres: size of the property

850: student capacity

45: number of classrooms

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Jacob Tellers is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jtellers@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2702.