Completion of school renovation project to be marked

NEW MANCHESTER – On Frankfort Road in New Manchester, where a newly renovated elementary school now sits, there used to be a two-room schoolhouse.

One room housed first through fourth grades, and the other housed fifth through eighth grades. Restroom and plumbing facilities were outdoors. In the 1940s, the security concerns of today were virtually nonexistent.

New Manchester Elementary School will remember that heritage Sunday when it celebrates the completion of a $5.5 million renovation project. The dedication ceremony begins at 2 p.m. at the school.

Principal Cinthia “Cindy” Virtue said the year-long construction project brought its share of difficulties, but the end result was worth it.

“It’s like a brand new school, a completely different school,” she said.

When the school’s 311 students returned from summer break on Aug. 22, they were greeted by a new parking lot, new playground equipment, secure entrances, a new cafeteria, three new pre-kindergarten classrooms and a host of other physical improvements.

The renovation project is the latest to be completed by Hancock County Schools with money from a $37 million bond levy approved by voters in 2010. Allison Elementary School in Chester received similar improvements, which were dedicated at a ceremony in August.

“The students absolutely love it. They’re taking so much pride in the building,” said Virtue, who is in her third year as head principal. “It’s a sense of family here, a sense of community.”

The school’s motto is “It Takes a Team to Educate a Child,” and the school’s renovation could not have been done without teamwork, Virtue said.

Improvements to the two-story building include 31 additional parking spaces; a pre-kindergarten wing; a new cafeteria; new heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems; a new sprinkler system; a new security system, with 16 surveillance cameras; a redesigned, secure main entrance; a new roof; a new elevator; new exterior windows and doors; new hallway flooring; new hallway and classroom ceilings and lighting; new playground equipment; and restroom upgrades.

Virtue, a 1987 graduate of Weir High School with 20 years’ experience as an educator, said the most significant improvements are the new cafeteria, pre-K classrooms, added security, expanded parking lot and elevator.

Previously, the school’s gymnasium doubled as a cafeteria, which added the inconvenience of set-up and tear-down during lunch times, Virtue said.

The school’s carpeted pre-K rooms will help bring it into compliance with new state standards for universal pre-kindergarten. Previously, trailers separated from the rest of the school were used for pre-K classes.

Expanded parking will make drop-off and pick-up times safer for students by facilitating better traffic flow for private vehicles and school buses, she said.

“Our parking was awful before,” she said. “This is a hundred times better.”

Virtue said the construction project was a year-long lesson in cooperation. “Now that it’s finished, it’s brought our school closer together,” she said.

“The students adjusted very well, and now you can see the sense of pride that they have,” she said.

General contractor for the project was Cattrell Cos. Inc. of Toronto. The architect was McKinley & Associates of Wheeling.

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