Coffeen School design encourages collaboration, ‘homey’ feel for students

SHERIDAN — If you take a drive down South Sheridan Avenue you will now see a school with bright green lawns and a large playground area rather than just a shell of a construction site.

Construction on the new Coffeen Elementary School is running a month ahead of schedule and still under budget.

Sheridan County School District 2 Facilities Director Julie Carroll said crews will be buttoning up in the next couple weeks and going through their punch list to find final touch ups and clear out.

Boxes of supplies and mounds of books have already been relocated from the old Highland Park School to Coffeen and crews are busy assembling the furniture.

“We’ve been using old Highland Park as a transition location during construction,” Carroll said. “We’ve been fortunate to have that available as a holding facility because some districts are just modular cities but old Highland needs a lot of work too.”

Among others, the old Highland Park School was previously used to house Meadowlark students and staff during their transition and will now house Fort Mackenzie High School and The Wright Place students for at least the next two years.

Teachers will be arriving on-site at the new Coffeen school Aug. 6 and will not only find their supplies waiting for them in their rooms, they will also discover state of the art equipment in every room.

Along with an abundance of storage space and common areas in each wing for inter-age mingling.

Each room has a built in projector system complete with VoiceLift — a wireless microphone technology that helps the teacher project to the classroom — and other interactive capabilities.

The school has been wired in to the new districtwide communications system with live reader display screens that can feed instant messages to every classroom in the building such as “fire drill” or every equipped classroom in the district such as “tornado warning.”

Several reading recovery and other outside resource rooms are located throughout the building where specialists can pull students out for one-on-one instruction.

Whether a student is falling behind or excelling and needing a more challenging set of material, these specialists have oversized storage rooms full of appropriate reading and study materials for all ages and will have the time, space and resources to work with any student who needs them.

A newer concept of teaching, the wings — which are divided with kindergarten and first grade together, second and third grades together and fourth and fifth grades together — each have a central seating and whiteboard space in the common areas where students of similar ages but different classes can meet to work together and share their learnings.

The building itself reflects these concepts of Professional Learning Communities, whose goal is to get teachers and students to collaborate more, by featuring smaller more “homey” wings as opposed to traditional long corridors.

Though the school features new concepts and technologies, it is not truly a new concept or design to the district.

The building followed a prototype previously used by SCSD2 for Meadowlark Elementary and the on-site construction company GH Phipps Construction of Wyoming also spearheaded that build.

“Since they did both projects it was easier to predict challenges and everything has gone very smoothly,” Carroll said. “Also it’s nice to have continuity districtwide for teachers or even students that may move from school to school. I have learned from each project and made small changes, but they are very similar in layout.”

Another feature of the layout is that the cubbies traditionally housed in elementary school classrooms have been pulled out to the hallways.

Carroll said this move was made in favor of wall space in the room as more teachers have started to utilize learning walls, and also to keep the classrooms more clutter-free.

Other schools have pushed this change further by replacing the cubbies with lockers at fourth- or fifth-grade levels in an effort to ease the transition to middle school but after discussing that option, SCSD2 decided to stay with cubbies.

There are many features to the school which will likely go unnoticed by the general public ranging from a slight slope on the entire property and drainage soil at the bottom of that slope — which led to decisions including a solid surface playground as opposed to the typically used bark flooring — all the way to purchasing a flash freezer for the kitchen to be able to save and reuse leftover meal ingredients.

Other more noticeable decisions include separating the bus drop-off loop, parent drop-off loop and parking lot, to three different sides of the building to alleviate traffic and also designing crosswalks, sidewalks and bike rack locations to ensure students cross the least number of streets possible.

“It takes a lot to get a building done and a lot of times it’s a big game of ‘hurry up and wait,’” Carroll said. “People always want hard and fast dates with these projects and I can’t always give them.”

The district has many future plans for continued expansion and renovation but likewise has few, if any, dates available for such projects.

Carroll said the district has had strong kindergarten numbers for the past four years and they have every intention to keep up with the growth.

In fact, a recent presentation to the Facilities Commission gave SCSD2 the go-ahead to continue negotiations on the development of a sixth elementary school currently being considered.

She added that the focus statewide has been on capacity and throughout this budget year, the state of Wyoming did not fund any needs buildings for repairs but only focused on capacity buildings funding to ensure there is a seat for every student.

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