DAYTON — Tongue River Elementary School has endured considerable overcrowding. The building was built to withstand a maximum occupancy of 205 kids and it is now holding 265. Tongue River faculty members are being pressured to educate children in an overcrowded facility, Deb Hofmeier, Tongue River Elementary School’s principal, said in a recent interview.

Sheridan County School District 1 officials discussed the idea of having a new elementary school constructed and it is now under way. The new building will be completed in July 2016. The opening will be in August 2016.

The cost of the final building will be roughly $17 million, most of which will be paid for by the Wyoming School Facilities Department, Hofmeier said. It will be able to accommodate 365 students, plus staff, comfortably. Eighteen classrooms will be added and each grade, from kindergarten through fifth, will utilize three separate classrooms. The layout has also promised 11 supplemental rooms, which will be used for academic opportunities. These include a science room, an art room, a music room, a multipurpose room and a full kitchen. The main educational rooms feature a media center with two computer classrooms and an extensive library, as well as two behavioral units for children who need extra behavioral help. A professional learning community room will be added for teachers and staff.

In an effort to educate students about their surroundings, the building has been designed to represent specific regions of the Bighorn Mountains. The kindergarten and first-grade wing will be the “riparian wing,” and everything in there has to do with water. A mural of the Tongue River Canyon will cover an entire wall. The second- and third-grade wing will be styled after mountain meadows. The fourth- and fifth-grade wing is styled after alpine mountains.

“What was nice about this is that [the] teachers were really given a lot of input,” Hofmeier said. “We traveled and visited schools, and have been able to say, ‘No, this is what we want.’ And our community should be happy because this is a beautiful building.”

The key features of this new building are its redesigned science facility, its music and art spaces and a sizable gymnasium. The science room will feature both wet and dry areas. Messy lab work will be tended to in a “wet room” to make cleanup easy and efficient, while other science lessons will take place in the dry room. A school garden will also be part of the science program. Another addition to the school will be a larger space for music and arts programs. The gym was a major concern of many parents and teachers before — now it will feature five rows of bleachers, a competition court and six basketball hoops.

Many of the students were taken to the building site to see their future school. Initially, students were going to be able to design their own playground, but this was canceled due to budget cuts. As for now, the old playground will be uprooted and moved to the new location. The playground will also feature foam instead of wood chips.

The school’s security system will be updated as well. A locked vestibule will grace the entrance of the building and newcomers will be buzzed in to meet the office staff. Cameras will be placed inside and outside of the school, with monitors in the office.

The architect has also installed a door in every classroom that locks from the outside to provide the student and teacher with a quick escape.

As for the well-being of the students, Tongue River Elementary faculty members report that they are very excited. Hofmeier plans to fundraise in order to provide extra support for the building plans.

By Anya Wobig, Tongue River High School