Can-do attitude helps under-construction schools on first day

2014-08-27T10:39:00Z 2015-01-18T17:25:04Z Can-do attitude helps under-construction schools on first dayBy DEREK BROUWER The Billings Gazette

Back-to-school photos and fist bumps mingled with construction tape Wednesday as students in SD2 returned to classrooms.

In addition to the usual first-day jitters, those at Broadwater and McKinley elementary schools contended with disruption from ongoing building expansions.

Despite the disturbance, the feeling at both schools was, as put by McKinley counselor Carolyn Yegen, “I think this is going to work.”

This year McKinley students are split between the historic school on North 31st Street and the third floor of the Lincoln Center, four blocks away.

Broadwater Principal Joe Halligan and his staff had been bracing for this day, when their school grounds would house 350 K-5 students and an active construction site that has cut the campus in half.

“I’m impressed with our parents,” Halligan said after most had parted ways and the tardy bell had passed. As he talked, a construction worker lifted a 2-by-16 length of lumber across an alley that has become one of the main entryways to the school.

No buses run to this neighborhood school; students either walk or are dropped off, and the campus only has a handful of parking spaces. Construction has closed the eastern half of the site, plus a block of Fourth Street West, closing a pair of access points, Halligan said.

The school is finding ways to accommodate the work zone.

This year students will exit the building by way of a “bull run” passageway lined with tarp and fencing. Each classroom will line up inside a fenced enclosure to wait for parents.

The morning had proceeded without any major problems. Halligan and others stood outside to receive and guide families. Students ate breakfast in the gym, then took their morning walk around the school’s two playgrounds.

The grounds were cramped, but otherwise the bustle of families felt like any other first day of school, parent Jake Houlihan said.

“My son was holding my hand until he got up there,” he said, pointing towards the school’s double doors, “and then he was like, ‘Bye!’ ”

Devlen Harris, 9, was bummed that he won’t be able to play soccer in the grass this year, but his mind was focused on fourth grade, not school construction.

“It’s gonna be harder math,” he said. “Now it’s going to be like 300 divided by 10 and 10 times 20.”

At the Lincoln Center, Yegen had a can-do attitude as she grabbed cereal for a student who was late and directed others through a hallway.

Yegen is sharing school oversight duties with McKinley Principal Bert Reyes. She will keep tabs on the third- through fifth-graders at Lincoln Center in the morning, then swap with Reyes to watch the younger students at McKinley.

A hanging banner now marks the third floor of the district headquarters as McKinley territory, where teachers have created eight classrooms amid administrative offices.

The makeshift elementary school spills into other parts of the building and is sure to change to building’s culture — and noise level — for the year.

Recess was held in the building’s old gym Wednesday, while an unfinished receiving room on the first floor has been converted into a cafeteria. A courtyard is also available for outside time.

Library instruction will be held at the Billings Public Library, and the school will hold P.E. class at the YMCA once a month.

Planning made the first day run smoothly, but teachers said they would need to adapt their procedures to the new space.

“Definitely some learning on the fly today,” teacher Jamie Barnes said.

Third-graders had already sized up the place by lunch time. Preston Picard observed that Lincoln is “much more quiet” than his home school, which he said was “really a wreck right now.” Kalli Brown liked the lunch room.

Beatrice Bentler agreed, with one exception.

“But it feels like we’re going back to kindergarten cause we’re the youngest ones here,” she said.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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