New Idaho Falls schools nearly ready

About 1,100 Idaho Falls elementary students will begin the school year in modern, new buildings this fall.

Idaho Falls School District 91 - A world class education As part of the Idaho Falls School District’s $53 million bond issue, construction crews are putting the finishing touches on the new Edgemont and Longfellow elementary schools.

Margaret Wimborne, the district’s communications and community involvement coordinator, said the new schools will be ready on time for the first day of class Sept. 2.

“To date, things are coming in on budget, with the new schools actually saving some money,” Wimborne said.

Longfellow Construction
Crews work on constructions of Longfellow Elementary School in this December 2013 file photo. The new school is set to open Sept. 2.

Edgemont is forecast to cost $10.8 million. Longfellow will cost an estimated $10.6 million.

District construction projects involved demolishing and replacing four of the city’s oldest elementary schools. Students moved into the new Ethel Boyes and Dora Erickson elementary schools last school year.

Remaining plans call for renovating Skyline High School’s science wing and updating the heating and air conditioning systems at Emerson Alternative High School.

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“These new schools are really designed to help support teachers, as they provide students with 21st century education through bigger classrooms and open areas that were designed with safety in mind,” Wimborne said.

All four schools feature the same, open floor plan. They were built on existing school sites so district boundaries have not changed.

The new schools’ features include:

  • 71,000 square feet of space, roughly double the size of the original Edgemont schools.
  • Two-story classroom designs.
  • Interactive smart projectors that transform white boards into smart boards.
  • Classroom audio systems.
  • Broadband and WiFi access.
  • Separate kindergarten areas.
  • Common spaces reminiscent of a high school or college.
  • Separate dropoff and pickup areas for parents and students riding the bus.
  • Single entry points, which staff members access with key cards.
  • Energy efficient systems that utilize geothermal heating systems and insulated construction designs.

Longfellow principal Kristoffer Smith said his students are most excited to leave their aging school behind for shiny, new facilities. But he and many teachers are most excited about the upgraded safety features and technology infrastructure. Built in 1957, the original Longfellow was not designed to accommodate 525 students in a modern learning environment.

New Dora Erickson
Each of Idaho Falls’ four new schools share the same design. Pictured is Dora Erickson Elementary, which opened during the 2013-14 school year.

The old school used portable classrooms. Smith and teachers sometimes left school doors unlocked so students and staff could come and go. (Multiple, unlocked entry points at schools across the state was one area of concern highlighted in a recent Safe and Secure Schools Task Force report).

Additionally, WiFi was shaky, some classrooms had as few as two electrical outlets and the old gym accommodated less than half the student population – meaning multiple assemblies and music programs were necessary to house students and parents.

“With controlled entries and an open floor plan, visibility is greatly improved and supervision of every area of the building is much easier,” Smith said.

Seventy-eight percent of voters approved the bond issue in 2012, but the district had to run the campaign three times before securing the needed two-thirds supermajority. To garner approval, district officials dropped the price tag from $84.5 million to $53 million.

Idaho Falls-based Bateman-Hall, Inc., a 40-year-old company, oversaw construction, but individual jobs were bid separately.

Parents and students will get an early look at Longfellow and Edgemont elementary schools during back-to-school-night activities on Aug. 28. Grand opening celebrations are being organized in September.