Being Principal of Waynedale Elementary School, Kristee Hoffner knows her building and exactly how badly the recent improvements there were needed.
As a part of the Fort Wayne Community School’s (FWCS) capital improvement project to renovate many of its buildings, the more than 50-year-old school recently received a vast slate of upgrades to bring its entire edifice and classrooms more in line with other 21st-century schoolhouses.
That included constructing a more secure entryway; a new cafeteria; updated lighting; air conditioning in the classrooms; and paint and façade touch-ups for the exterior of the aging building, located at 7201 Elzey Street.
“The school was built around 1970,” said Zachary Evans, Capital Project Coordinator for Fort Wayne Community Schools (FWCS). “That’s about average age for elementary schools in our system. But Waynedale had not had work done in so long; it was not an optimal learning environment.”
One of the most crucial fixes, according to Evans and Hoffner, was a secure vestibule for the school’s entrance. Before the project, visitors were able to enter the building from different points. Now, visitors must come in through a secured entryway in the front and are buzzed-in in order to enter the building.
Having the security is important in this day of school intruders and unexpected school violence, Hoffner noted.
“Safety is so important. Now, you have to be buzzed in from the outside in order to get in the building. That’s something that was very important for us to have,” she said.
The project also took a few unused classrooms and a back hallway and transformed that space into a cafeteria, a luxury the school has never had before. Hoffner said the space also now is being used not just for student lunches, but for additional classroom space, and as a spot to instruct the children in “Emotional Learning.”
Another critical addition was the renovation of the school’s HVAC system, as previously, only the building’s offices and hallways were air-conditioned, and none of the classrooms.
“We replaced the old air compressor with a computer-controlled thermostat to better control the building’s temperature,” Evans said.
The lights in the school offices and classrooms also were modernized, Evans noted. “We replaced all the old, dim and yellow pendant lighting with new, brighter LED lighting.”
Total cost of the project clocked in at just under $5 million, according to Evans, and was paid for by a FWCS bond issue that was passed by local voters in 2016.
Hoffner noted that construction crews still are finishing up a few small details of the project, including putting some big-screen TVs in the vestibule and welcome center, as well as some additional landscaping around the edifice, and a garden in the rear of the property.
She said the school already has a Tower Garden indoors that grows plants and vegetables in a more vertical fashion than a typical garden.
“In there, the students grow herbs, micro greens, green beans and cherry tomatoes.” She said that was made possible with help from local company Artemis International, which helped the school apply for grants to pay for it.
Hoffner added that getting students involved in the garden not only teaches them about agriculture but could serve as vocational training to youngsters interested in entering that field.
She added that much of the food grown in the school’s garden is donated to local food banks and other charities.
In the coming months, the landscaping portion of the improvement project also is slated to create an outdoor garden in the back of the school, Hoffner said, that will buttress the output of the indoor garden.
In addition, the outside of the school also got new sidewalks, a refurbished and cleaned brick exterior, and a brand-new welcome sign outside the front door.
Hoffner said her students loved all the changes the day they returned for classes this fall.
“Just walking in the first day of school,” Hoffner said, “the kids all noticed the new changes, and you could see the excitement in their faces.”
The school boasts a staff of more than 50 administrators and teachers, and a student population of roughly 420 kids, who range from pre-Kindergarten to fifth grade.
Hoffner said the recent improvements aren’t just a boost for her staff and students, but for the entire Waynedale community.
“It gives students and their families a great learning environment,” said Hoffner. “And it’s great for the community, as well. We can bring more families to Waynedale.”