By Sue Kiesewetter
LIBERTY TWP. - Skylights with brightly colored mobiles and a silo that pays homage to the site's farm roots are among the eye-catching features that will greet students in Lakota Schools' newest elementary.
VanGorden Elementary and the other new school in Ohio's largest suburban district, Plains Junior, open today. The district's fourth junior and 11th elementary school sit on the former VanGorden farm - one on either side of the district's new administrative offices at Princeton and LeSourdsville-West Chester roads.
"We were pretty crowded at the junior high level. This gives us more space for a few years more," said Bruce Lewis, Plains principal. "It's a really great feeling to have the physical space - no traveling teachers; you don't have to walk sideways; no bumping each other...It's been a long time coming."
The school has state-of-the-art science labs with prep rooms between, a high school-size gymnasium that seats all 640 students and is designed with a "Main Street" hallway similar to Lakota East and West high schools.
"I am just gawking at the wood ceiling, the tile work," said parent Liz Spinazzola. "It's wonderful."
Meanwhile, VanGorden is set to welcome 734 students in grades 1-6. Its opening eases overcrowding at nearby Cherokee. Still, every elementary school except VanGorden will continue to have modular classrooms on site, said Doug Lantz, business manager.
A skylight lights a spiral staircase. From it hang brightly colored mobiles with shapes - circles, triangles, rectangles and squares.
"The layout of the school - its spaciousness, openness, color scheme - brings warmth. It's a very inviting environment," said VanGorden Principal Reba Barkley.
She is particularly fond of the primary reading center built in the second floor media center inside the silo feature of the building - a tribute to the land's former use as a farm.
The carpeted, rounded area has low shelves with books geared to primary grade children. Tables in the media center look like a chalkboard, with legs designed to look like pencils.
New Lakota Schools
Address: 6475 LeSourdsville-West Chester Road, Liberty Township
Size: 91,000 square feet
Enrollment: 734 students, grades 1-6
Feature: A combination cafeteria-gymnasium large enough to seat the entire school population.
Plains Junior School
Address: 5500 Princeton Road, Liberty Township
Size: 114,000 square feet
Enrollment: 640 students, grades 7-8
Features: A combination cafeteria-stage that seats 450.
Cost: $25.5 million for both schools.
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