MARIETTA — When Marietta City Schools start their academic year on Aug. 4, a new Park Street Elementary School building will open its doors to teachers, even as students learn remotely.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Marietta Schools will start the year online only, but teachers began occupying Park Street Elementary this week “to get in there and get their classrooms set up,” according to district Chief Operations Officer Chuck Gardner.

The new building, a three-story, nearly 85,000-square-foot school, replaces the old Park Street Elementary School on the same lot in Marietta. The old Park Street building, demolished this summer, was the oldest school in the district, in use since 1942.

“This project was really special because the old Park Street Elementary was actually one of the oldest buildings in the district,” Gardner said. “The history was really important to the city, the alumni and just a lot of people that felt connected to that school, but it was so old and hadn’t been added on to, and with the structural integrity of it, there was no way to make it meet the needs of us going forward.”

Principal Diona McIntire said it was exciting for her to work on the new school building with architects and construction managers. Teachers and community members gave McIntire feedback and ideas about what to include in the new facility, and the principal delivered those ideas to the people responsible for designing and building the school.

“Our school has a very, very rich history to begin with, so to be able to kind of lead the work and helping to design and create a new part of history for our community was just an incredible experience,” McIntire said.

The new school building, a $16.5 million project funded through 2018 bond proceeds and the 1% Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for education, comes equipped with 39 classrooms, a science, technology, engineering and mathematics lab, a media center and more, Gardner said. He said most classrooms have windows and more natural light than classrooms in the old building, and the school has wider hallways and three teacher work rooms. The school also features a large gymnasium with a built-in stage.

“We didn’t have a stage for the students in our old building to be able to perform and parents to come and see their children in a different environment,” McIntire said. “We now have a gym that has a stage built in — we call it our ‘gymatorium’ — and it will have bleachers, but it has a nice stage... for future performances when we’re back in the building, face-to-face with our students.”

McIntire said the Park Street employees miss their students, but teachers are excited to open the new building this year.

“Many of our teachers have opted to teach from their classrooms virtually,” McIntire said. “So, although the students won’t be in the building, the teachers will be able to come in and use their classroom space.”

The principal said much of the new furniture in the classrooms will be on wheels, making it easy to create a flexible learning space. The modular furniture, along with other technologies like smart televisions, will help students “get as much of a face-to-face environment as possible through the virtual realm and setting,” according to McIntire.

“Instead of being at home where a lot of our teachers may be confined to just a dining room table or an office space, if they’re able to teach from their classrooms virtually, they can almost set up different zones to be able to move throughout their classrooms to do lessons,” McIntire said.

The new building will also serve as a gathering place for the community, according to the principal. The school offers adult education classes, a food pantry and other resources for families. McIntire, who took over as principal of Park Street in 2018, said the Parent University program was one of her first initiatives at the school.

“We started doing Parent University and allowing parents to come in and just learn about a variety of different things, from how to help your child with math homework to how to prepare them for testing,” McIntire said. “We even had someone come in and talk to them about getting a bank account, setting up email. So there were a lot of different parent classes that we have started to offer in the building.”

In the old building, those classes took place in the community collaboration room. McIntire said the new school building will provide more gathering spaces and new ways to reach out to the community.

“I feel like it’s going to be an incredible thing for our students,” she said. “I think it is going to be a new hub to bring the community together.”

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