IDAHO FALLS — For the first time in years, students and teachers at Dora Erickson Elementary School don’t have to deal with freezing classrooms and overflowing toilets.
On Nov. 4, Idaho Falls School District officials opened a new $11.5 million elementary school. The new building replaces the old Dora Erickson, and is part of a $53 million bond issue, approved by 78 percent of voters in early 2012.
The project calls for replacing four of the district’s oldest elementary schools and renovating five other schools or buildings.
Dora is the first school completed, and last month’s opening marked the first time the state’s sixth-largest district has opened a new school in 22 years.
“It’s changed the students’ whole attitude,” second-grade teacher Leigh DeHart said. “They are really proud. We’re the first new school in a long time.”
The building, projected to come in about $160,000 under budget, features several improvements:
- More space, at 71,000 square feet. The previous school measured 43,000 square feet.
- SMART projectors, interactive whiteboards and audio systems throughout the 29 classrooms.
- A WiFi network that will support at least one mobile device per student.
- A kindergarten area that features separate bathrooms, an indoor play area and storage.
- A multipurpose room, media center, music room and computer lab.
DeHart, who has taught at Dora four years, said the old school no longer met students’ needs and was uncomfortable. Plexiglas windows were held in place with hot glue, leading to freezing conditions during the winter. Many classrooms only featured two electrical outlets (the new building boasts 870 outlets), and blown fuses were common when teachers tried to plug in education tools.
The plumbing was old, and 450 students shared just two sets of bathrooms that were prone to flooding.
“There were not a lot of tears shed over leaving the old building,” kindergarten teacher Mary Hanson said.
Dora Erickson is a high-poverty school in the middle of an academic turnaround. When only one third of students were reading at grade level, teachers and past principal John Murdoch extended the school day and instituted “The Leader in Me Program.”
Early results are encouraging. In 2011-12, the school earned two stars on the state’s five-star rating system, amassing 47 points on the 100-point schedule. In 2012-13, the school jumped to three stars and 62 points.
First-year Dora principal Kelly Coughenour said the new facility, with its increased technology and creature comforts, will help eliminate distractions and allow teachers to focus on teaching,
“I’ve worked in buildings with poor facilities and nicer ones,” Coughenour said. “It just helps morale. People are coming into a comfortable building that is clean and bright.”
Third time is a charm?
Before crews could begin work on any schools, district leaders had to convince residents that the work was necessary. Voters shot down more expensive versions of the bond issue in 2009 and 2010. A majority of people voted for the project, but the two-thirds supermajority threshold eluded supporters.
In response, district leaders scaled back on the plans and dropped the price tag from the initial $84.5 million figure.
“We had to run it three times to get it approved,” Superintendent George Boland said.
So far, Dora Erickson is under budget, but winter weather pushed back the original scheduled opening by a week or so.
Students and teachers moved into the second new elementary school – Ethel Boyes – this week, but a few lingering projects remain before the Dec. 16 grand opening.
Two other new elementary schools, Edgemont and Longfellow, are under construction and scheduled to open in fall 2014.
Within the total project, the four new elementary schools are projected to cost about $44 million.
“It appears we are on schedule, and so far everything has come in on or under budget pretty much,” Boland said.