By Kevin O’Rourke
Students and teachers through Germantown are excited to return to school next Monday, but there aren’t many more excited than the kids, parents and educators at Waters Landing Elementary School.
When Waters Landing has its open house on Friday, students will have more to get know than just their teachers. They will have what the principal is calling “essentially a new whole building” and the school community is very happy about that.
“We are all thrilled,” said Danielle Deaver, president of the Waters Landing Elementary School Parent Teacher Association, about the amount of work which has been done to the school over the summer.
The work includes construction projects to build two additions to the school, adding 25,755 square-feet to the school as part of an 11-classroom addition, a one-story Kindergarten area and two-story addition of other classrooms. The project, which began two years ago, cost $7.6 million, according to Dana Tofig, chief public information officer with Montgomery County Public Schools.
Prior to the new construction, Waters Landing Elementary School which was originally built in 1988 was a house divided, with classes in the same grade housed in different parts of the building, and sometimes different buildings. Like many schools in Montgomery County, the school was overcrowded and required portables -- mobile trailers to be used as classrooms.
Waters Landing Principal Tina Shrewsbury explained, “We had nine portable trailers. We had third-grade classrooms out there. Half our third grade was in the building and half was outside. We also had four fourth-grade classrooms outside. The other two rooms in the trailers were an ESOL classroom and a staff development room.“
The additions give the school a total of 12 new classrooms, and five smaller support rooms. Although, according to Shrewsbury the school’s enrollment has not increased over last year’s total of 690 students, the new construction will allow the school to have a total capacity of 740 students. “That gives a little bit of room to grow and gives us some elbow room that we didn’t have before,” she said.
New classrooms are great, but perhaps the new feature that everyone will be most proud of is the tile dolphins on the floor in the new two-story wing. “When they were starting construction and they asked me what colors I liked, I said we are blue and white and we are the Dolphins. So, they made certain that I had my dolphins,” said Shrewsbury.
Dolphins are cool, but learning is the key for a principal that challenged her students to read for one-million minutes last year and ended the school year with the students to reading for more than two-million minutes.
“What I was able to do with the new sections opening up,” said Shrewsbury, “was rearrange the entire building so it made sense. So, instead of my kindergarten classes being in three locations of the building, they are now in the new Kindergarten Wing. All the second grade teachers -- instead of being in two pieces of the building -- are all in the second grade wing.”
“All the grades will be together,” she explained. “Previously, as the school population was growing before, a new classroom for a new class in a grade would be put wherever the room availability was, so they weren’t always together. Now we are actually able to relocate all the classes and put teams together so that grade level teachers can collaborate. It is a lot easier when your teammates are right next door.”
While in years past, even with the overcrowding and split-up layout the teachers were able to made do and get the students at Waters Landing excited about learning, the new school makes educating students easier.
“My teachers were fine with teaching in alcoves and little rooms, or sharing rooms, now they don’t have to do that. Teachers have their own spaces, therapists have their own spaces, and our classrooms have their own spaces.”
Although only part of the school is new, Principal Shrewsbury, who’s starts her third year at Waters Landing this year, is treating it as a whole brand new school. “We really do have what amounts to a new building,” she said. “We have new heating and air conditioning units throughout the entire system. We have new ceilings and lighting systems throughout the entire building. We have a bathroom renovation, so the entire building has been upgraded.”
“I am really excited to show our families not only the new pieces of the building, but to show them the entire building. It really is much like a new building. We are branding ourselves as the New Waters Landing,” she said.
The “new” Waters Landing will also include new playgrounds and fields, according to Shrewsbury. “We will have two new playgrounds going in outside. We’ll have a Kindergarten playground and a new older children’s playground,” she said. “I have my fields back for recess which is a nice thing. Last year, my staff put smiles on my faces and made do with what they had and they only had a small section to play in. This year we get all of our fields back.” The playgrounds won’t be ready when the doors open on Monday, but students should only have to wait three or four weeks to hit the new equipment, as the final touches are put on the new school.
Another major change is the location of the main entrance, which has moved to the Waters Landing Drive. There is a new security wall which directs visitors directly to the office to be checked in, prior to being allowed in to the school. Shrewsbury said they were still in the process of getting the “new” office set up, and all the bugs should be out of the system by the time school opens for students and parents on Monday.
“A number of the PTA board members have seen the new building and they are very excited,” said Shrewsbury. “Previously, they had a small PTA closet where they kept all the materials to support activities, and now they have a bigger closet space. So they have more space too.”
The PTA is understandably pleased. “We couldn’t be happier,” said PTA president Deaver. “It turned out wonderfully, it looks beautiful and we are very excited to have the students out of the mobile classrooms. I have second grader and new kindergartener. I love the new Kindergarten wing. It looks beautiful and I love the nice big rooms and the colorful tile. The kids are going to love it. It is a very welcoming and warm space for the kids.”
Shrewsbury explained that all of Water Landing’s seven incoming Kindergarten classes will be contained in a one-story wing of the building, giving the little learners a special area to grow and become accustomed to life as a student.
For two years, the principal has been working around construction schedules and work orders, and while it hasn’t always been easy for the staff, she says it has all been worth it. “It is amazing how well all the contractors worked together,” said Shrewsbury. “It is a major orchestrated event with the building contractors, the ceiling and tile contractors, the bathroom contractors. MCPS really works with us to make sure this is a real concentrated effort to make sure it is done right and done quickly.”
“I am amazed at how well they were able to match old and new tile. On the outside of the building you can hardly tell where the old building ends and the new building begins,” said Shrewsbury.
She confessed that this summer has been the most difficult. “Once the students and the teachers weren’t here anymore and the fence went up around the property, it was interesting to get into the building and it became a challenge just to keep working and keep things moving.”
She credited MCPS construction technician Michael Coulter with helping get through the construction and transition. “Mike Coulter was here to coordinate everything. To make sure I was able to keep working and that parents were able to get into the building to register kids. Mike was integral in making sure I was able to get my job done. MCPS made it easier by giving me someone like Mike who was able to ask, “what do you need next?,” or tell me “this is what we need to do next,” said Shersbury.
She also credited MCPS facilities designer Joseph DeRossa with success of the work this summer. “Joe came in and made sure that all the other projects were running smoothly,” the principal said.
“The hardest part,” she said, “was not having kids or teachers here and having contractors here during the summer. But, seeing the smiling faces of the teachers eager to go this week -- I am really happy about that. I can’t wait until Friday, when we will give our children and families get a sneak peak at the new building.”
Photos by Germantown Pulse