Remaking Arey - from The Messenger
In just eight short months, the sounds of children laughing and learning and playing will once again fill the halls at the former Arey Elementary School, 104 S. 17th St., as it reopens as the new Fort Dodge Early Childhood Center.
Since its decommission as an elementary school, the building has served as the Fort Dodge Community School District's central office building and housed the CARES/PRIDE alternative school. But next fall will be the first time since June 5, 1990, that the entire building was used as a school, housing preschool, transitional kindergarten and kindergarten for the whole district.
Superintendent Dr. Jesse Ulrich announced his plans to the district's board of education in the fall of 2019 to transition the fifth grade back to the neighborhood elementary schools and move the districts kindergartners into one building, along with transitional kindergarten and preschool.
"We wanted to have a greater focus on our early childhood learners to make sure that all of those teachers are together, receiving professional development, looking for the same things so that when students are finishing up kindergarten and transitioning to those neighborhood elementaries, they have a great foundation knowledge of literacy and math instruction," he told The Messenger recently.
Through this plan, the district was able to give new life to an old building and reinvest millions of dollars into Fort Dodge through the use of local contractors.
Once the renovation of the new Central Office Building at 109 N. 25th St. was complete and the district administration was able to move into that facility, construction on the renovation of the former building was able to get started.
Jensen Builders, of Fort Dodge, won the contract for the project for $5,964,000. Construction started at the beginning of October.
Most noticeable at this point in the project is the addition of four new classrooms on the west side of the building - two on the first floor and two on the second floor. An elevator was also included in this addition, making the building ADA accessible.
"It's going to be a really unique building," Ulrich said. "It's going to be one of our largest elementaries that we have. It will serve about 450 preschool though kindergarten students."
For administration, the building will have a principal and a coordinator for early childhood services.
There will be 12 sections, or classes, of kindergarten, two sections of transitional kindergarten and six sections of preschool in the building.
On the first floor, near the former main entrance to the building, will be a new library/media center which will integrate STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) activities for students. On the second floor, there are 14 classrooms for kindergarten classes, with adjacent classrooms sharing a private restroom. The new main entrance to the building will be near the gym and cafeteria on the south side of the building.
"(The building is) just really well-designed in my biased opinion," Ulrich said. "I think it's really well-designed for collaboration of teachers and efficiency of space."
Jensen Builders are doing a "phenomenal job" keeping the project on track, Ulrich said. The project is scheduled to be complete in June 2021.