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The day at the new Oak Grove Elementary School in Albany ended Thursday with a tour, but it started with a thank-you.

“There are not very many students who get to attend a brand new school,” said Greater Albany Public Schools Superintendent Melissa Goff at its ribbon-cutting ceremony. “As someone who has been a part of an opening before, I can guarantee it will be am amazing experience for you.”

The school replaces the old Oak Grove Elementary School and was part of a $159 million bond passed by voters in 2017. But it wasn’t always in the cards that a new building would sit at 1500 Oak Grove Drive.

“The original intent was not to build a new school,” GAPS board chair Jennifer Ward told the crowd gathered in front of the school. The board had initially intended to renovate the old building, but about two years ago, after receiving plans for the new Meadow Ridge Elementary School, it changed course.

“”It was beautiful,” Ward said of Meadow Ridge. “It was new and modern and it was the kind of school that makes you want to quit your full-time job and go back to elementary school. Then, we saw the plans for Oak Grove.”

While Ward said the renovation plans were adequate, they didn’t hold a candle to Meadow Ridge.

“It was old,” she said. “We could just tell that even with everyone’s best efforts, it was still going to be a mediocre facility.”

The board opted to demolish the old school and build a new one for an estimated cost of $26 million, a price Ward said was close to the cost of renovating the old facility. After price adjustments due to industry increases and changes, the building was completed for $27.5 million.

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“This building is a legacy building,” David McKay of HMK Company, the firm managing all of the district’s construction projects. “It will serve four or five generations of kids. It’s exciting to think of the investment you’ve made in your community.”

According to McKay, 67% of the money spent constructing the building stayed in the community through the use of local contractors who worked to finish the two-story building in time for the start of the school year.

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The new building has a separate cafeteria and gym, a teacher professional learning center, a media center, outdoor mini amphitheater, and upgrades in technology. Voice-lift amplifiers will allow teachers to speak at their normal volume and be heard by students in all corners of the classroom. Interactive televisions can connect teachers’ computers to a touchscreen display that students can interact with. And color-change lighting in the special programs classroom aids students who need emotional and physical regulation to focus.

Oak Ridge Principal Jerrie Matuszak said she'd already gotten lost in the new building and was excited for students to see it when they start school next Tuesday — especially the fifth-graders.

Students entering that grade in September will have started kindergarten at Oak Grove before moving to Fir Grove for first grade, returning to Oak Grove for the second- and third grade, and then spending their fourth-grade year at North Albany Middle School.

One of those fifth-graders, Kalin Blaine, was excited at the chance to attend Oak Grove again. After watching the construction all summer, he wants to be an architect when he grows up.

“My parents told me the citizens of Albany paid for the new school,” he said. “It will be enjoyed by generations to come. I would like to thank all of you who made it possible.”

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