August 1, 2008

New Lyman Elementary in Spartanburg, S.C., Has Learning-Friendly Design

By Lee Gray, Herald-Journal, Spartanburg, S.C.

Aug. 1--Lugging overpacked cardboard boxes and bags filled to the brim with school supplies, teachers at Lyman Elementary School tiptoed around still-wet asphalt Wednesday to at last gain entry into their brand new classrooms.

The school is nearly complete, and will be ready by the time the new school year begins Aug. 19. Lyman is one of two new elementary schools opening in District 5 this year. Abner Creek Elementary also will welcome students to its new campus in just a couple of weeks.

Lyman's $12.4 million, 92,000-square-foot building is beside D.R. Hill Middle School on Holly Springs Road. Much of the building's design mirrors D.R. Hill, which opened last year. The schools have the same brick color and exterior detailing. Their parking lots and entrances are separate, though the schools do share a bus loop.

Inside, walls are brightly painted to complement primary colored accent floor tiles. Arched blue-metal ceiling panels are an eye-catching focal point in both the "cafetorium" (cafeteria and auditorium) and media center.

"We were looking for something different. After you do 10, 15, 20 of these schools, you try to look for something unique," said Brian Diechman, architect with McMillan Smith and Partners. "All the common spaces are central to the building, and then the classrooms radiate out."

In the gymnasium, what you see isn't what you get. The "wooden" floors are, in fact, foam padding topped with vinyl. The rubbery feel is ideal for young, injury-prone students to play on, Diechman said, and maintenance is less than on wooden floors.

Principal Tim Henson remarked on the school's large windows and bright colors, which combine to give the school a cheery, open feel.

"They're kid-friendly colors," said Henson, who comes to the school from River Ridge Elementary, where he was principal for seven years. "The use of primary colors is really going to pay off in how much the kids love their school."

Henson is a graduate of District 5 schools who later returned to the district to teach. All of his 24 years in education have been spent in District 5.

"It's really the only place I've ever wanted to be," Henson said, seated in his new office just down the hall from the bright yellow kindergarten wing. It's where he fits best, he joked.

Teachers were able to enter the school last week in stages. Carrie Stephens, a first- through fourth-grade self-contained teacher, spent Wednesday setting out books and tacking posters to walls.

"It is beautiful. I can't say enough," Stephens said of the new amenities. "It's modern and up-to-date. I can't wait to start the school year."

Reading interventionist Risa Lewis commented on the school's technological features. LCD projectors will hang from every room instead of televisions and overhead projectors. Also, two computer labs connect to the media center.

"It was really well thought out and well planned," Lewis said. "We're going to enjoy being here."

A handful of classrooms at Lyman are still empty and will remain so until enrollment increases. The new schools, which were approved as a result of overcrowding, allow the district room to grow. Both Lyman and Abner Creek were built for up to 610 students. As of a mid-July count, 527 students were enrolled to begin the new school year at Lyman.


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