East Park: 'We're very happy it's done'

East Park: 'We're very happy it's done'

DANVILLE — While East Park Elementary School students are loving their new cafeteria, there are some others who say they appreciate it even more.

They're the teachers whose classrooms surround the three commons areas where students used to eat.

"It's so quiet now," first-grade teacher Michelle Lawhorn marveled during a recent lunch period, as she peeked out of her classroom into an empty hall. "Before, it was really hard for the kids to concentrate because of the noise. Now I can actually teach a lesson, or they can read books or work in small groups After lunch, there's nothing to distract them. They come in, and it's back to business."

School officials were planning to show off the newly-opened cafeteria and kitchen and other improvements made during the school's $12.8 million renovation at an open house this week. The event, which was canceled by the latest snowstorm, will be rescheduled.

"We're very happy it's done," Superintendent Mark Denman said of the project, which also brings to a conclusion the district's ambitious plan to overhaul its three most problematic schools in three years.

The $12.3 million South View Middle School renovation was done in 2012, and the $13.76 million North Ridge Middle School renovation wrapped up in 2013.

The schools, which opened in 1961, shared the same basic design and problems including a flat roof that leaked, outdated boilers, plumbing and electrical systems, no air conditioning and old windows and doors, among other things. They also were built without cafeterias because the district ran out of money, leaving students to eat in the commons areas.

"Between 35 and 40 percent of our student enrollment is housed in these buildings. So it was crucial that they were renovated to meet current health life-safety standards and the needs of our students," Denman said, pointing out the district financed the work without raising the tax rate.

The base project at East Park, which houses close to 900 preK-5 students, was very similar to the base work at its two sister schools. It included adding a sloped metal roof to the building, installing a new HVAC system, making electrical upgrades, remodeling restrooms with touchless fixtures, replacing exterior windows and doors, painting the building, pouring new, wider sidewalks that are more accessible for wheelchairs, black-topping the parking lot and removing old lockers that were used when East Park operated as a junior high and middle school but were no longer needed.

An additional project called for building the cafeteria with seating for more than 400, a modern kitchen and restrooms. South View and North Ridge both have cafetoriums.

"It really makes everything more efficient," Principal Eliza Brooks said of the cafeteria, adding food service staff don't have to push large, bulky meal carts down to the commons areas anymore.

"And the teachers can work in their classrooms during the lunch period," Assistant Principal Robin Fluno said, adding they don't have the noise from the commons areas disrupting them.

Buildings and Grounds Director Ron Henton said one commons area was converted into two computer labs, which should be running later this week. Teachers are using one for small group work, and the third as a holding area for bus riders.

"I've been here 20 years, so East Park has always been my home," Lawhorn said. "But I feel a lot more pride in my school now. All of the improvements have just put a smile on my face. And I know the kids feel that same pride, too. They notice the new paint and that everything looks brighter. They love it."

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