An addition and renovation to Rockbridge Elementary, which first opened in 1966, is the first at the school since 1989 and alleviates the need for portable classrooms, which had been a mainstay. The addition now allows for 1,250 students, up from the original 875. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)
NORCROSS — Portable classrooms have been a way of life at Rockbridge Elementary, except for four years of the school’s 48-year history.
Population growth and enrollment beyond capacity has been an issue at the school since it opened in 1966. In fact, that was part of the reason the school was built. The school opened with 11 classrooms, but portable classrooms were used even on the first day of school when it opened.
A decade later, all fifth-grade classes were moved to Lilburn Middle to relieve overcrowding.
Twice in the late 1980s, an addition was made to the school. The last renovation was in 1989, which is the only area of the school that was incorporated into a two-year project that’s in the finishing stages. That addition was 22,475 square feet which included 10 kindergarten classrooms, eight other classrooms and six special-needs classrooms, district spokesman Jorge Quintana said.
Yet this August, overcrowding may finally be in the past at Rockbridge as construction on a $17.6 million addition is in the final stages with the first day of school less than three weeks away. The school’s capacity grew from 875 students to 1,250.
“It’s exciting,” first-grade teacher Kerry Ritter said as she organized her room last week. “Definitely a good way to start off the school year. Everyone’s excited and has a good attitude about starting off the year.”
Among the most noticeable changes are an expanded media center that allows full classes to take advantage of SMARTBoard technology at once, and a gym that’s about double the size of the space prior to renovation.
What Principal Kelly McConnachie is looking forward to is everyone being together and students enjoying long, wide hallways — something that hasn’t been the case recently. She said it’s an exciting time at the school, and the construction, which began in June 2012, has been a learning process since students have watched the renovated building and additional space go up from the ground.
When the school opens on Aug. 5, the 15 portable classrooms used last year will be gone. Two buildings were made into one that is 154,023 square feet that sits on 14 acres.
“It’s pretty much a brand-new school,” said McConnachie, who has been principal since 2010. “I think our learning has always been at the utmost, whether it was in portables or in a building. I definitely feel like it’s always been our No. 1 priority. But I do feel like it helps with the culture of the school, the kids will enjoy seeing each other more. When you’re in portables, you’re more isolated. The collaborative learning will positively impact that.”
School officials had a sense of history, and kept several items found during the move, such as a message etched in the duct work above the stage that read, “Be cool, stay in school.”
A few teachers have worked at the school for 25 years, and several community members asked about time capsules they buried years ago and wondered if they were found during construction.
“It’s brand-new, it’s something they’re proud of,” McConnachie said. “They’ve always been proud of the work we’ve done inside the building, but they’re really excited to see. … It’s exciting when you can be a part of the project and not just watch it.”
Before construction began, administrators asked about what elements of the school are most important, and what would hold meaning through the years.
One of those keepsakes is a Teacher of the Year wall that features black-and-white yearbook pictures from when the award began. The idea was how to bridge old with new, and that will be the case on a wall made of original bricks.
“It’s a piece of the school that was over there and will look the same over here, just in a different location,” McConnachie said. “Something the students can identify with as well.”