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Cottonwood begins $8 million overhaul

During a tour on Sept. 8, Cottonwood Elementary School principal Jane Chapin explains the configuration of the fifth- and sixth-grade pod, which is being modernized as part of the school’s two-year renovation project. The classrooms will feature a teaching wall which is angled to allow all students to better see it. - Photo by Jesse Beals
During a tour on Sept. 8, Cottonwood Elementary School principal Jane Chapin explains the configuration of the fifth- and sixth-grade pod, which is being modernized as part of the school’s two-year renovation project. The classrooms will feature a teaching wall which is angled to allow all students to better see it.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

When students returned to Cottonwood Elementary last week, it wasn’t their same old school.

The whines of power tools and banging of hammers resonated from the cafeteria and what is known as the fifth- and sixth-grade pod. The administration office has moved to the back of the school. Just follow the bright yellow signs to classroom 12.

“It is really interesting. Everyone is so positive there’s an energy from this,” said principal Jane Chapin.

Students are using the school’s blueprints to learn area and perimeter formulas.

“The whole community has been energized,” she said.

This summer, Cottonwood, which was built in 1976 and opened in 1977, began its $8 million modernization paid for with federal heavy impact funds. The two-year project will revamp the school’s classroom pods one pod at a time. It will also modernize the cafeteria and administration area.

The fifth- and sixth-grade pod of six classrooms and a common area, and the cafeteria have been gutted and reconfigured. Students have been moved to another pod and all students will eat lunch in the classrooms until the cafeteria is finished. That should be by the end of the month.

Every morning there are problems to solve, logistics to figure out, but Chapin keeps her focus on the result.

“What we have is this vision for what it will be like when it’s done,” Chapin said.

That vision includes better access to technology, new mechanical and HVAC systems and more storage space, chalkboards replaced by learning walls and classroom bathrooms will make way for community bathrooms.

The modernized classrooms will have one wall at an angle that will become a teaching wall. The wall is angled so the students can see it better and it includes a white board that doubles as a screen for a projection system.

The common area will be more open and include a small bank of computers, a conference room and work space for people who need their own space.

The pod should be finished in January and the third and fourth grade pod will be next on the list. There are three pods and one hallway with four classrooms. The school has 23 classrooms that serve about 400 students in grades K-6.

“In a school you want to work with small groups and that’s what we’re going to get out of this,” Chapin said.

When the project is complete, each pod will look about the same to give school officials as much flexibility as possible, Chapin said.

Storage space has been added to the gymnasium and cafeteria. The cafeteria doubles as an auditorium and its stage was expanded to give kids more contact with the audience. A storage room has been added to house the lunch tables. The kitchen is also being redone.

“It was so small they could hardly turn around,” Chapin said.

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