Last Friday, the Rowan-Salisbury School District opened its first new elementary school in more than a decade. Despite the rain, a crowd of about 750 parents, students, and citizens listened to Superintendent Lynn Moody and others in the school auditorium as cars lined Highway 70, backed up for a mile.
The school system decided to build an elementary school for the western portion of Rowan County when both elementary schools in the area developed physical issues that couldn’t be easily resolved.
“Understandably there was quite a bit of emotion about closing two schools where so many memories were formed,” Moody said. “My prayer and hope is that new memories will be made in these halls as well.”
Woodleaf Elementary School, built in 1927, had capacity for about 450 students but only 350 were enrolled. Cleveland Elementary School, also built in 1927, had capacity for about 400, with 265 students in attendance at the end of 2018. The new school, West Rowan Elementary, has a total enrollment of 615.
Both of the older schools have a presence at the new school. Masonry students from nearby West Rowan High School built two brick benches at the flagpole, one with bricks from Woodleaf Elementary and one with bricks from Cleveland Elementary. Signs on the benches commemorate the schools.
Building contractors worked persistently to meet the opening date, despite the wettest winter in Rowan County in a century. The building was completed on time, with only details and playgrounds yet to be finished.
After speeches, the crowd eagerly toured the building. Hallways are painted different colors to indicate grade levels. Offices for administrators and counselors are dispersed among classrooms rather than being clustered together at the school entry. Novel seating and lighting adds a spark of whimsy to the environment. Soaring ceilings and clerestory windows admit natural light.
Kris Wolfe, principal at the school, has been getting ready for this day for a long time.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity for West Rowan Elementary School students and staff,” he said. “The building is state of the art and high-tech and very student-centered. A lot of thought was put into creating collaborative learning spaces. It’s an amazing building, and our students are so deserving of this opportunity.”
Students will retain the teachers they had at their respective schools in the fall. Andrew Helms is a fourth-grader who toured his new classroom on Friday.
“It’s way bigger, and there’s more stuff,” he said. “The TV is bigger, and there are more seats. I’m glad I have the same teacher. It will all be fine.”
Helms’ mom, Stacey Anthony, agreed with his assessment.
Today was the first day for students at the new school after the holiday break.