When Beecher Hills Elementary School principal Crystal Jones welcomes children back to class Monday, students will be stepping into a brighter, bigger building.
The updated and expanded southwest Atlanta school now boasts a new gymnasium — a first for the school— and a revamped computer lab, cafeteria and classrooms.
The year-long renovation of Beecher Hills is one of five major school construction projects, totalling $80.2 million, completed by Atlanta Public Schools in time for the start of the year.
Jones showed off the building, with its shiny new floors, freshly painted hallways and reconfigured spaces, to appreciative parents during a Friday open house before the first day of school.
“It looks like what you would want for your child to experience in terms of excitement for learning — a bright, colorful, engaging environment. And, I think it matches the enthusiasm that instructors have for teaching the students,” said Teri Platt, whose child is starting second grade.
Last year, Beecher Hills students temporarily relocated to another building while their school was overhauled. Platt’s daughter has seen photos of the construction work, but won’t see the finished product until Monday.
Jones, who began her two-decade career at Beecher Hills as a teacher, said she’s happy to have a gym for physical education classes, a cafeteria with enough space for two serving lines, an art room with long tables perfect for creative projects, a secured entrance area and reliable air conditioning and heating.
In addition to Beecher Hills, the district finished major renovations of Gideons and Harper-Archer elementary schools and the pre-kindergarten-through-8th grade Hollis Innovation Academy. The district also built a new $30.5 million Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy.
The projects are funded through a one-cent special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST, voters approved in 2016.
Unlike suburban or rural school districts, Atlanta doesn’t have many big tracts of undeveloped land to build new schools.
On urban sites, construction crews have to contend with old utilities and building foundations.
For several of the redesigned Atlanta schools, architects had to come up with efficient, creative designs that fit on tight properties.
“We are challenged by relatively small sites, and we are trying to keep neighborhoods happy,” said Jere Smith, APS director of capital improvements.
At Gideons, crews tore down part of the old school and built new classrooms. The Harper-Archer renovation focused on making a building previously used as a high school and middle school into a place for elementary students.
Hollis got a new science and technology lab and space for students to learn computer coding, among other upgrades.
The new Tuskegee building pays homage to its namesake with an aviation theme, including plenty of science and technology spaces.
At Beecher Hills, one big challenge was figuring out where to build a gymnasium on the hilly property. Crews built the new gym at the back of the school and created a commons area to overlook it.
On Friday, Jones greeted more than a hundred parents and students in the new gym and then swung through the new computer lab, in the school’s former cafeteria. It replaces a lab that Jones said was closer to “what a computer lab looked like when I was at school.”
Technology teacher Tabitha Amos, who is starting her 28th year at Beecher Hills, said the more modern space is perfect for bigger classes as well as small groups of students.
“I love it,” she said.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.