DANVILLE — All summer long, fourth-grade teachers Lisa Palinski and Angie Kelly kept track of the renovations at East Park Elementary School through pictures that Principal Chris Rice took and posted on the Internet.
But the pictures didn't do the transformation justice, they said.
"The whole building looks completely different," said Kelly, who, along with other staff, got to see the improvements firsthand at registration earlier this month and was still getting used to them while readying her classroom late last week.
"Everything is so nice — the cohesive paint scheme throughout the building, our blue and white school colors, the new restrooms," Palinski added. "I think the new environment is going to create a new sense of excitement and enthusiasm among the students and the staff."
East Park kindergarten through fifth-graders will get to see the changes today, the first day of school for most students in the Danville school district. Students at Northeast Elementary Magnet School, which follows a year-round calendar, started in late July.
The $12.5 million renovation at East Park is the third and final major building overhall that the district is doing in a three-year period. The $12.3 million South View Middle School renovation was completed in 2012, and the $13.76 million North Ridge Middle School renovation finished up earlier this year.
The base project at East Park, at 930 Colfax St. — the largest of the three once-problematic schools — was very similar to that of its two sister schools. It included adding a sloped metal roof; installing a new HVAC system; making electrical upgrades; remodeling restrooms with touchless fixtures; replacing exterior windows and doors; painting the building; pouring new sidewalks that are more accessible for wheelchairs; black-topping the parking lot; removing old lockers that are no longer needed; and moving the main entrance several feet north of the original one and adding a canopy.
The main entrance won't be ready until Friday. Parents can drop their kids off at the south entrance near the gym until then.
An additional project called for building a new cafeteria, which can seat more than 400, with a modern kitchen and restrooms. It's scheduled to be completed at the end of December.
"It looks great," Superintendent Mark Denman said of the project, which is on schedule and on budget. "After a great deal of study and community input, we decided that these renovations were the most cost-effective and educationally-appropriate decision. And the improvements and the addition of the cafeteria will enable East Park to serve our students and our community for generations to come."
Denman said the school will hold a dedication ceremony in January after the cafeteria is open.
Buildings and Grounds Director Ron Henton said last Friday that contractors were prepared to work up until opening day to finish last-minute jobs.
"It's mainly just picking up and cleaning and making sure everything is in place," he said.
Henton also said crews are still installing the air conditioning system. "We hope to have it ready to start shortly after school is in session," he said.
Rice said staff and the 880 students will most likely appreciate having air conditioning, which will greatly improve the learning environment during the hot, sticky months, as well as the new cafeteria. Students will continue to eat in the school's three commons areas until the new lunchroom is finished. But once it is, Rice said, teachers with nearby classrooms won't have to worry about noise and disruptions.
One commons area will be converted to a computer lab, Rice said. Another could be converted to a classroom down the road, and staff would like to keep one open to use for various purposes.
Rice said students will notice some other improvements that staff put in place this year to compliment the renovations. They've posted blue and white signs marking the principal's office, nurses station and other offices in the main hallway, and they'll be putting "Home of the Rockets" decals on the floor.
Also, the library is getting beanbag chairs, a listening center and a 16-foot by 14-foot pirate ship structure, where students can read.
"Our theme this year is 'Imagine the Possibilities,'" Rice said, adding all of the changes will play into that. "We hope all of this is going to be something that not only the students will take pride in, but also the community."