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Olmsted school reopens with $17 million in improvements

Nearly $17 million in upgrades means new classrooms, courtyards and computers for one of the city's top elementary schools.

But it also means that Frederick Law Olmsted School 64 bears a real imprint of the man who serves as its namesake.

Tributes to the renowned landscape architect who designed Buffalo's park system are all over the recently refurbished school, from the leafy tree painted in the center of the basketball court to the glass walls looking out onto the tree-lined parkways Olmsted designed.

“This school sits on historic ground,” Principal Nora Trincanati said Thursday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the school's “grand reopening.”

That consideration is evident in the nearly $17 million recently poured into the school at Amherst Street and Lincoln Parkway that is known for its high achievement and ethnic diversity.

Olmsted's name is etched in stone above the school's main entrance, where a new facade gives way to a series of metal leaves that pay tribute to Olmsted's design concepts.

The school, built in 1921 on a key site used for the Pan-American Exposition, also features a new multi-use “Pan-American Room,” complete with period furniture and a gorgeous view of Lincoln Parkway.

Floor-to-ceiling windows bring a flood of natural light into that room and many of the classrooms on the refurbished side of the school, and large murals of scenes from the Pan-American Exposition add a historic element to the decor.

More than 30,000 square feet of classroom space has been added to the Lincoln Parkway side of the building, where students have great views of the neighborhood below.

Other upgrades include a refurbished gymnasium, auditorium and library as well as smart boards and other new technology for the classrooms.

New landscaping and a redesigned playground – arguably the most popular element among students – also help the school more fully integrate with the North Buffalo neighborhood where it sits.

“We talk about wanting a world-class education,” Superintendent Pamela Brown said. “We have to have a world-class learning environment for our children.”

Hundreds of elementary students, from preschool to fourth grade, roared and applauded in front of the school, where a grassy area and dark hallway have been replaced with an inviting courtyard and public space.

They sang patriotic songs and gave a warm welcome to Brown, the embattled superintendent, who appeared with several School Board members at the event.

Brown called the overall school reconstruction project, which overhauled dozens of schools, the “largest historic preservation project in the entire City of Buffalo, and it's all for our children.”

No one appeared to know more about the changes than John Van Vessem.

The energetic fourth-grader led a tour through each floor of the building, stopping every few feet to explain why each new detail was important.

“It's designed to bring the natural light inside and light things up,” he said of new skylights that illuminate the hallways.

He was also quick to point out the color-coded stairways and difference between Olmstedian hardscapes and softscapes.

Satisfied with the work of the architects, John – who hopes to be a football player someday – stopped at a second-floor vantage point to point out his classmates below who were playing.

“As you can see down here,” he said, “this is a perfect view of the playground.”