The new school has a number of modern features and furnishings, and was designed with feedback from Jones-Wheat teachers.
The school is about twice as large as the old Jones-Wheat Elementary school, which was built in 1954 and demolished in Summer 2013, before new construction began on the same site.
While some of the open land facing Shotwell Street was taken away by the new building, there will still be room for a playground and adequate parking spaces. Only three school buses currently stop at Jones-Wheat, as most of the school’s students walk to school, so there wasn’t a need for a large bus lane, according to Dr. Fred Rayfield, superintendent of Decatur County Schools.
The entire school, which has a brick and concrete exterior, will be surrounded by fencing and will have a system of secure doors that are always locked from the outside. The new school will also have a secure entryway, separating the public lobby from the rest of the school. There is a central courtyard in between the three wings of the school, where students, teachers and parents can eat their lunch outside or hold classes.
Some of the new school’s main rooms, such as the cafeteria and gymnasium, were laid out using design lessons learned from construction of the modern West Bainbridge Elementary school on Zorn Road, said Carter Barton, construction manager.
The public is invited to an open house and tour of the new school on Sunday, September 28.
The old Jones-Wheat gymnasium had no air-conditioning; the new gymnasium not only has air-conditioning, it also has the capability of using clean, scrubbed air in the event of an emergency, such as bio hazardous chemical spill on Shotwell Street. Part of the reason this was done was because Jones-Wheat is in close proximity to a major fuel terminal on Shotwell Street, said School Maintenance Director Jerry Mills. The gymnasium has a pleasant light-purple and gray paint scheme and the walls have sound-absorbing panels that will make it more suitable for holding graduation ceremonies, Christmas programs and other special events. There is a small stage off to one side of the gymnasium and plenty of space for chairs to be brought in for an audience.
The classrooms were also designed to be functional and modern, and teachers from different grade levels got to give their suggestions on everything from the placement of cubbies and storage areas, to the height of computer station tables based on the age of their students.
All of the classrooms come equipped with a media projector and smart board. Smart boards look like dry-erase marker boards that can have images projected on them. However, the accompanying projector is very high-tech and can “see” how students interact with the board using special markers, said Steve Dunn, director of information technology for Decatur County Schools. For example, one of the uses of smart boards is for visual math games that teach concepts from the Common Core curriculum. Teachers can also control the smart board’s activities with their school-issued iPads, and even pass the tablets around to students so they can answer from their seats without blocking other students’ view of the board.
Instead of having TVs in classrooms, morning announcements—as well as remotely-streamed educational presentations—can be broadcast through the smart projector. There’s even a bit of school safety features built into the smart boards. Jones-Wheat Principal Larry Clark or other administrators can broadcast special announcements to the whole school or target a specific set of classrooms. Teachers will be trained on what to do when safety messages are broadcast, such as if there were an intruder in the school, and there are ways they can signal back to the front office that they received the message and have locked their classroom, Dr. Rayfield said.
The school will have a large new media center / library, with features designed to assist teachers and librarians to facilitate group learning and research.
The school’s new cafeteria is very similar to the one at West Bainbridge Elementary and is designed to minimize the time it takes for students to wait in line, get their food and sit down, Mills said. Teachers who don’t have cafeteria duty on a given day can eat their lunches in a quieter adjoining room separated from the main cafeteria by glass panels.
The whole facility is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, thus making it wheelchair-friendly, and also has a number of subtle architectural details that will make it a good-looking, modern place for learning to thrive.
Fast Facts on the new Jones-Wheat Elementary School
- The estimated total construction cost of the new school is $12.49 million. It was financed as part of a $15 million dollar bond project approved by voters, with the remainder of the bond proceeds going toward replacing Decatur County school buses. The bond is being paid back using the one-cent E-SPLOST sales tax.
- Generally speaking, there have been anywhere between 50-1 25 workers on site throughout the construction process, many of them local or from South Georgia. Quillian Powell Construction of Valdosta is the general contractor for the construction of the new school.
- Jones-Wheat, which is home to students in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade, has been holding classes at the old West Bainbridge Middle School campus on Dothan Road between August 2013 to the present.