New elementary school building ready for students to return

Local News

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — The newly-rebuilt Dr. Howard Elementary School has been completed after two years of construction.

The school reopened to staff members after a nearly $18 million rebuild that was paid for as part of a 2016 referendum. The building, which will serve roughly 325 students in Kindergarten thru 5th grade, has floor to window ceilings lining the hallways. That feature is one of principal Suzanne Meislahn’s favorite features.

“It is so bright,” Meislahn said. “It has so much natural light. The colors, they just pop. It’s just so welcoming to little ones, to young students.”

Project manager Sandra Roesler agreed.

“Aesthetically, I just really love the glass walls and the ability to feel like you’re in an elevated tree house,” Roesler said.

She said flexible learning was key to the school’s design.

“There’s glass partition doors to each classroom, which allow each room to become more open,” Roesler said. “The furniture is also designed to be flexible.”

Unit 4 Schools worked with MiEN Environments on the furniture design. MiEN’s Christian Frank said the blend of chairs and stools are designed to help fidgety students stay focused.

“When you’re designing a flexible classroom, you want to have that diversity of seating, that diversity of table height, furniture that’s going to move and be able to rock so the kids can actually use some of that fidget energy and stay focused and engaged on what they’re teaching,” Frank explained.

Frank said while older school environments may have been teacher-oriented in the design, the new active learning spaces are more student-oriented and mirrors more modern work spaces.

Currently, students are learning remotely, although many staff members are holding their virtual lessons from the building. Some classrooms will use desks instead of the previously-planned group tables in order to meet social distancing requirements once hybrid or in-person learning resumes. Dr. Zola has said she’ll provide an update on learning for the second quarter at the school board’s meeting September 29th.

Meislahn is looking forward to welcoming students back.

“The staff misses all of our students,” she said. “It’s not the same here without them. We’re really looking forward to having them here in our learning spaces and our play spaces.”

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