Ben Franklin Elementary moves into new building

"It's cool!" That was the most often heard comment from students attending the newly rebuilt Ben Franklin Elementary School. Construction of the new school building was barely completed by the first day of school on August 31. Students and their parents walked around construction fences still shielding unfinished landscaping from trampling feet.

"It's got much more space and it's got cool stuff in it," said Natalie Peterson, a second-grader, echoing the opinion of many of the students.

The new building is two stories tall with lots of high ceilings and natural light. It's a Northwest modern style and has a corrugated metal roof, a big change from the old flat-roofed 1960s-era rambler with buckets catching drips in the hallways after every rain.

"I like that there's a second story," said Christy Truong, a fourth-grader, although Soheila Saghari, a fifth- grader whose classroom is on the second floor says, "I like the new school about the same as the old one, except it's more work to climb up the stairs, especially in the morning when I'm tired."

Embracing our climate

The new school takes advantage of the features of our area. Now, rainstorms will create a waterfall and fountain in a center courtyard of the school, as rainwater from the roof drains into a cleverly engineered work of art that celebrates our rainy weather.

The new building sits farther back on the school site, but a grove of trees behind the building has been preserved. In past years, students have seen owls in those trees. The high windows in the new building let in as much of our elusive sun as possible. "I love all the natural light," says Peggy Anderson, the school librarian.

Blacktopped playgrounds keep kids from getting muddy, while providing a canvas for painted gameboards. The new playground sports stenciled maps of the United States and the world. Kids have already invented games they play on these maps. "It's cool that it has a racetrack," says second-grader Jacob Rumpf.

Sharing with the community

A new grass play field in the southwest corner of the school site will serve both the school and the Kirkland community. Under an agreement between the Lake Washington School District and the Kirkland parks department, the city will build and maintain this new field for use by the school during the day and for public use after school and on weekends. It will add one more much-needed soccer field to our area's inventory.

The city is also installing a new climbing/exercise structure on the school playground, again for joint use by the school and public. Kirkland will maintain the structure as well as the woods behind the school.

Teachers enjoy upgrades

"It is so exciting to have a brand new school with up-to-date technology'" said second-grade teacher Joy Brooke. "I am enjoying integrating the document camera and the projection system into different content areas and I can see my students are benefiting already!"

Every classroom has a high-tech system that allows teachers to project documents onto the wall where students can see them with ease.

Art docent Sharon Morrison is excited about the kiln in the art room and, for the first time, the school has a dedicated music room in the main building.

"The climbing wall is going to be great for the kids," says physical education instructor Lin McKinney, pointing at the south wall of the new gymnasium. Hand and footholds like those on the climbing rocks at REI stores poke out of the wall up to a height of about 8 feet. The new gym also has a floor made of recycled rubber material.

Fourth-grader Oscar Parrish identified the new lunch room as one of his favorite features of the new school. At the old school, lunch was served from catering carts set up every noontime in the front hallway. Children had to return to their classrooms to eat. Now they can eat together in a large common room adjacent to the gymnasium.

The noise level from the long tables full of chatting lunchers is measured with a traffic signal on the wall. It changes from green to yellow to red as the room gets louder.

With new schools come new things, and new needs. The school principal, Mary Cronin, has registered the school on the baby registry at Target to encourage parents to contribute items such as books for those extra shelves in the school library.

Like all blends of community and professional vision, there will be many features that work wonderfully, and some that need work, but overall, the verdict is, "It's cool" to have a new school.

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