At first glance, the temporary classrooms in Center Grove Elementary School’s gymnasium look similar to where other students are learning in the building.
Rows of desks fill the center of the room. A projector and screen at the front of the room allow the teacher to show students that day’s lessons. Students have space to split up and work in groups, and their best work is displayed on the walls.
But then you notice the basketball hoop hanging at the front of the classroom — a reminder that this room is still in the school’s gymnasium.
“It’s not ideal,” Principal Bruce Haddix said. “But it’s not bad either.”
This school year, most of the school’s roughly 700 students will spend about two weeks in one of the two temporary classrooms set up in the gymnasium. Students will rotate in and out of the gym while their permanent classrooms get new cabinets and temperature controls and other renovations. Construction crews also are building a new gym attached to the building and adding four classrooms.
A few miles north, crews are carrying out a similar project at North Grove Elementary School, and the school’s roughly 370 students in kindergarten through third grade will rotate in and out of classrooms typically used by teachers leading art, music and other elective classes.
Principal Brian Proctor didn’t want to set up temporary classrooms in the gym, which students and teachers use every day for physical education classes, large-group instruction and club meetings.
“I needed to create a plan that was the least distracting to (students),” Proctor said.
The renovation projects at each elementary school cost about $10 million. They were started this summer and should be complete next fall. Much of the most invasive work, such as rebuilding fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms at North Grove, will happen over the summer while students are away, but renovations to most of the classrooms’ floors and walls and other upgrades needed to happen during the school year in order to meet the construction timeline.
Last spring and over the summer, Haddix and Proctor developed plans for what to do with their students while the classrooms were under construction. But both principals also need to be ready to change those plans quickly, as the benchmarks for the construction projects are out of their control and it’s impossible to plan for everything.
Proctor opened up four classrooms at his school by moving art, music and other elective teachers onto carts, meaning those teachers move the materials they need to teach their lessons to different classrooms multiple times each day. North Grove’s kindergarten through third-grade students and their teachers then rotate into the four open classrooms for two weeks at a time.
The biggest challenge the teachers and students will face during their two weeks in the alternate classrooms is that they no longer will be near classmates in the same grade.
North Grove has time each day when students can work in small groups or with teachers reviewing lessons they haven’t mastered yet, and typically students can go next door or across the hall to meet with their small group. During the two-week transition, those groups will be scattered throughout the building, Proctor said.
The temporary classrooms also don’t have their own restrooms, which will be a change for the school’s kindergartners and first-graders, Proctor said.
“It sounds so minor. But it’s a big thing for a kindergarten or first-grade classroom,” Proctor said.
Under the current construction schedule, most of the renovations for the regular kindergarten through third-grade classrooms should be complete by the start of second semester, meaning those teachers and students should be back in their regular classrooms in January, Proctor said.
Classroom renovations at Center Grove Elementary are expected to take longer, through at least spring break, though the school should be able to use the four new classrooms during the second semester, Haddix said. When he was considering how to accommodate students and teachers during construction, Haddix immediately ruled out putting art and music teachers on carts. He didn’t want those teachers spending the school year moving all of their materials to different classrooms five or six times each day.
“I’ve lived that life while I was a music teacher,” he said. “I wouldn’t wish that life on anybody.”
Instead, he opted for the temporary classrooms in the gym. But that also meant finding a new place for P.E. classes.
For the first few weeks of school, physical education teacher Jared Briles took the elementary school students outside for class, but it’s been too hot for that the past few weeks. So he’s utilized hallways, entryways and work rooms.
On Wednesday, Briles worked with about two dozen students in a large work room, having them run in place in the middle of the room and then talking them through how to do different kinds of stretches to strengthen their core muscles.
“I got a gem when I hired him,” Haddix said of Briles.
Haddix is hopeful the weather will stay mild enough for Briles to have class outside through October. When the weather gets cold, students can walk with their teacher to nearby Center Grove Middle School Central to use one of that school’s gyms, he said.
If the construction work stays on schedule, the new gym should be ready to use by January, Haddix said.
Both principals meet daily with construction supervisors for updates on the work at their buildings. They need to know what work is moving ahead of, behind or on schedule so they can let their teachers know quickly.
They are used to hearing about changes to the schedule.
At North Grove, final work on a wing with fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms isn’t scheduled to begin until next summer, but crews are hinting to Proctor they may want to begin before the end of the school year.
At Center Grove Elementary, Haddix is hopeful that the new gym can open as scheduled and that his third- through fifth-graders are back in their regular classrooms by next spring, when it’s time to take ISTEP.
“As long as we stay on (our) schedule and nothing on the construction end breaks down, we’ll be fine,” Haddix said.