NIAGARA FALLS -- Four years of planning and construction began to pay off last week as the second and third floors of the new and colorful Niagara Street Elementary School's academic wing were turned over to city school officials.
The first floor is expected to be completed by July 23.
The community wing -- which houses the gymnasium, cafeteria, 360-seat auditorium and swimming pool -- should be completed by the first week of August.
That will give teachers, administrators and other workers plenty of time to move furniture into the building's 32 classrooms, library, art room and two computer labs, and give maintenance workers time to polish floors and prepare for the first day of school Sept. 6.
The $24.6 million school was designed with children in mind. Project manager Kelley Culp took a Buffalo News reporter on a tour of the school last week. She showed off what is actually two rectangular, precast concrete buildings that are connected by a corridor. The judicious use of color and glass figures prominently in the look.
The outside of the school's two wings are highlighted by bright red, blue, yellow and green trim that contrasts with the blanched precast concrete walls. The precast also is broken up on the northeast corner of the school with glass walls on the second and third floors of the academic wing. They appear blue from outside on Niagara Street. The same holds true for the adjacent three-story, glass-enclosed staircase that sets off the school's east side.
Niagara Street and Welch Avenue entrances are made to stand out by bright red steel canopies. Culp referred to them as the school's "Roman candles."
The west side of the community wing is marked by bright yellow-tiled walls.
Window designs come in various hues that give what workers described as a "Native American-Frank Lloyd Wright" look.
There's also a bright red vent beneath each window, adding to the visual impact.
Each exterior door is framed in blue.
>Designed for safety
The building also is designed for traffic safety, with school bus drop-offs on Niagara Street and car drop-offs on Welch Avenue.
Culp said the color theme extends throughout the interior of each building -- from floor to ceiling. "They have an epoxy flooring with a marblelike finish, sections of which are highlighted by green, blue, light red or light brown. All the windows and doors have blue frames," Culp pointed out.
Sections of lockers are bright red. Each set of classroom doorways is marked off above by a colorful, rounded ceiling soffit.
The hallway restrooms are equally colorful, tiled mostly in gray and blue for the boys and gray, maroon and rose-salmon for the girls.
"A majority of the classroom walls are painted light gray, with yellow and red accents. The flooring is gray, with red, blue and green patterns in it," Culp said.
Superintendent Carmen A. Granto called School Board member Don J. King "the school's color coordinator."
King said he pushed for primary colors for the primary school.
"I wanted the colors to set the tone for the kids and the community, to give them something full of excitement," he said. "I think primary colors just shout out 'school' and 'young people'. I think the bright colors should make the kids feel good when they walk in the building."
Assistant Principal Gerald M. Orfano, who will help Principal Paulette Mombert-Pierce run the new school, said he likes the design. "I think the most impressive part is the library-media center," Orfano said, "because two sides of the room have floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook Niagara Street. The view is impressive. The art room on the third floor, right above it, is the same way. They are beautiful rooms, and it puts you in a nice mind-set when you walk into either of them."
He also said he liked the way the swimming pool has turned out, with its yellow and light blue tiles, and the double-sized gymnasium, which will sport six baskets and can be divided into two basketball courts.
"They are beautiful," he said. "I'd like to be the first person to jump in [the pool]."
The gym also will be colorful, with a hardwood floor and bright yellow pads covering the walls. The upper walls will be covered with reddish-maroon acoustical pads to help absorb sound, Culp said.
>Aid to learning
The color, design and amenities will amount to something even more important, said Nicholas E. Marchelos, the district's support services director and point man on the school project: learning.
"I love the visual impact from the color and the large expanses of glass and tile work and the landscaping outside," he said, "but I'm particularly proud that the school will -- to an extent that a school building can aid in learning -- provide every opportunity for children to learn."
From a technology point of view, Niagara Street School will be the district's first school to have large, computerized, interactive SMART Boards in every classroom. This and 42-inch television monitors will aid in instruction, Marchelos said.
He said each classroom will be equipped with four personal computers, and the two technology-computer labs will each contain 20 to 25 PCs. There also will be computers in the art room and the media center.
Each classroom will have its own restroom for the convenience of pupils.
"Kids deserve the best. That's a given," Marchelos said. "That's what we've tried to do here."
Marchelos said the total project will cost the district about $24.6 million, just under the $25 million it had set aside to cover anything that might come up during construction.
Actual construction costs have reached $19.03 million to date.
Granto said the School Board opted to put up a new building in 2004 after studies showed the old school had so many inherent problems that it was not worth renovating.
So many children lived on the city's East Side -- 685 at the time, 615 of whom walked to school -- and there was no other elementary school in that neighborhood that Granto said the board decided to demolish the old building and place the new school on the same site.
Granto said his approach to building a new school was the same as he used when building Niagara Falls High School in 2000 and Niagara Middle School in the mid-1990s.
"Every kid deserves to have the best education and the best facilities the community can afford," no matter what social or economic background, he said.
"We wanted to provide a square deal for kids," he said. "We're expecting an awful lot from them today in terms of assessment, and the least we can do is get them into classrooms that don't leak and are decent."
Granto said he is pleased with the results. "It's a wonderful building for education," he said. "Those kids are going to be well-served. The neighborhood will be well-served, too, because the school has a community building, which is to be used, as well as a large plaza on the west side of the site, which can be used for things like events, carnivals and fairs."
"I like it because it really upgrades the neighborhood, it's a good facility for kids. and it doesn't increase cost to the taxpayers," Granto said. "I get a thrill out of that. It's on time. It's on budget. And it's union built."