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A new Lancaster grade school, the big-ticket item in a $33.2 million construction bond issue passed by voters two years ago, will be ready for more than 900 fifth- and sixth-graders when the new school year begins Sept. 9.

Dedication ceremonies for the new William Street School are set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the site off William near Siebert Road.

The red and light gray brick structure with its green window frames and pitched, shingled roof -- reminding some people of a large residence or contemporary office building more than a school -- will be open to the public for self-guided tours between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Thursday.

"I'm absolutely in love with it," its first principal, Karen MacGamwell, said last week. "It has a light and airy spaciousness, a feeling of peace, simply a beautiful environment for children to learn in."

Spawned by growth in the second-ring suburb, the $17.9 million Lancaster school is only the fifth new public school built in the county since the 1970s, officials said.

"It's on budget," said Donald M. Van Cott, project administrator. And it's on schedule, thanks in part to an El Nino winter that cut a month or two off the construction schedule, said architect John F. Doster of Trautman Associates.

The architecture -- featuring shingled gable roofs, dormers with round windows, and extensive use of skylights -- combines classical school, contemporary technology and residential designs, while departing from the flat-roofed school styles of the 1960s.

"We were shooting for a kind of high-tech home look," Doster said. "The skyline of the building looks a great deal like its residential surroundings, which I think has a lot to do with the feeling of comfort about the building."

The school was built to relieve enrollment pressures by taking fifth-graders out of the district's elementary schools and the sixth grade from its overcrowded middle school. Voters defeated a plan to build a second middle school several years ago.

The unusual fifth-sixth grade configuration has its advantages, according to Mrs. MacGamwell. "Parents have told me it's the best of both worlds because it lets their kids be younger a little longer and have two years to ease into the more independent style of the middle school and high school," she said.

But new school or not, Lancaster's growth problems aren't letting up. In April, officials projected a first-year enrollment of 830 children at the new school, designed with a capacity of 1,000. By last week, the actual count was up to 908.

Features of the new William Street School include

40 large classrooms with four desktop computers, one laptop computer and a sink in each.

A 200,000-gallon, competition-sized swimming pool with six racing lanes, plus a ramp and another lane for the disabled.

A three-level cafetorium, with two levels for lunch and one for music practices and performances. It has three serving lines -- pizza, entree and express -- and seats 350 people for dining and 750 for performances. The school will have six bands, one orchestra and five choruses.

A large art studio. "Most colleges don't have one as big or as nice as this," School Superintendent Joseph L. Girardi said during a tour last week.

The swimming pool has drawn flak from some residents because there is no pool at the pupils next step up the educational ladder, Aurora Middle School. Girardi said his response has been, "If they learn in the fifth and sixth grades, they're not going to forget how to swim before they get to high school," which does have a pool.

"Every child will be a swimmer by the time they leave here," Mrs. MacGamwell said. Youngsters will take swimming twice a week for 12 weeks during each of their two years at William, she said.

But Mrs. MacGamwell is most proud of how her new school is laid out in four educational "neighborhoods," two in each wing. In each neighborhood, eight to 10 classrooms surround a "commons" area equipped with four television monitors and four floor jacks for portable computers.

"You can just feel how the learning will transcend the four walls of the classroom here," she told a visitor last week. "The commons is like the town square, with the classrooms all around it, and all the learning spilling out into it," the principal said.

"It's obvious this building was designed from the curriculum up, so to speak, as opposed to building a building and then stuffing the curriculum into it," Mrs. MacGamwell said.

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