Tuesday was the first day of school for many students throughout Western New York, but it was also the first day for an entire school building in North Buffalo.
Tapestry Charter School, one of the region's oldest charter schools, officially opened its new elementary school building on its expanding campus, welcoming 394 children in grades K-5 to the shiny new facilities.
The building includes three floors of 25 classrooms, as well as specialty spaces for the visual and performing arts, a STEAM laboratory, a full-sized gym, a kitchen and cafeteria, and a library. Kindergarten and first grade occupy the first floor, followed by second and third grades on the second, and the two upper grades on top.
The bulk of the school is still located in a separate building nearby, at 65 Great Arrow Ave., where the elementary grades used to be housed as well until they outgrew the space.
"I have never been so excited to begin a new school year than I have been this summer," said Tapestry Executive Director Eric Klapper, calling the building an "amazing new educational space."
"Tapestry's best years are in front of us and not behind us," he added. "Our future is bright and this is going to be an incredible year."
Klapper said the "dream of building out our Great Arrow campus has been percolating for years," as the school has gradually grown.
Founded in 2001, the tuition-free Tapestry has been one of the city's success stories, with more than 800 students overall from every zip code in the city of Buffalo. But officials have now adopted a plan that will expand Tapestry to more than 1,000 by 2021 — including nearly 500 in the elementary school.
The high school has had 80 students per grade from the beginning, but the middle and elementary levels were smaller, starting with 26 students and then 52, before officials boosted the middle school levels to 68 and now a maximum of 80 this year.
That's the same plan for the elementary grades over the next few years, as new classes enter kindergarten. Currently, only second, third and fourth grades are still at 68, while kindergarten, first and fifth are already at 80.
"We’ve been working for a long time on our growth model, and this is a great day for Tapestry’s entire K-12 community," Klapper said.
Designed by Trautman & Associates with input from teachers, staff, parents and trustees, the new building was constructed in just 13 months by RP Oak Hill Building Co., with assistance from McGuire Development Co. as the owner's representative.
The $17 million project was financed through tax-exempt bonds issued by the Erie County Industrial Land Development Corp. in August 2017, providing a low fixed rate for 35 years.
Located at 111 Great Arrow Ave., at the head of Lincoln Parkway, the new 60,000 square-foot building sits in a largely commercial and industrial zone, on the former site of the Plaza at the Pan American Exposition of 1901. That history and the school's mission helped shape the design of the building, Klapper said.
The facade features a combination of tan stone and multi-colored insulated metal panels of white, gray, red and brown, with an angled entrance and lobby area designed as a "nod to the period architecture of the Pan American exposition site," Klapper said.
The building's main staircase winds around its elevator tower in a glass-enclosed atrium at the exact center of where Lincoln meets Great Arrow, "in order to act as a beacon, as the electric tower was at the Pan Am site," Klapper added. He said students climbing the stairs will be able to see out the large glass windows toward City Hall and Lake Erie, and the school will light up the stairway at night."Pedestrians, neighbors and friends will be able to drive, walk or bike up Lincoln Parkway with Tapestry acting as a beacon of light cutting the horizon," Klapper said.