By Mollie Rushmeyer, Correspondent
Taking a trip through the newly renovated Royalton Early Childhood Center and Royalton Middle School- High School (MS-HS) building, the words “state-of-the-art” might come to mind. And new interim superintendent, John Phelps, said he’d have to agree.
What started in 2015 as an approved bond referendum of $26.1 million for improvements to the Royalton schools has culminated into a finished (save for a few cosmetic details) MS-HS and Early Childhood Center and updates to the elementary school, featuring multi-functional spaces and top-end technology.
Phelps said that one of the things that impressed him upon starting his position July 1, was the fact that a small town with a population of just over 1,200 people, cared so much about their school district. The value residents placed on their children’s education and their futures showed in the plans and execution of the expansion project. And the more emphasis the district can place on early learning, Phelps said, the better.
“It’s just like I always say, if your parents had put $10,000 into a bank account when you were born, and that doubles roughly every seven years, left to grow until your retirement, about 50 years, you’d have over $2 million. Wouldn’t that be nice?” Phelps said. “It’s the same with education, the greater the learning at a young age, the greater the learning over a lifetime.”
To expand the district’s ability to serve preschool and kindergarten-aged children, new classrooms and learning areas were built onto the MS-HS, now called the Early Childhood Center. This will also hold the district offices, as well as be the entrance hub for all visitors.
“Safety was paramount in the planning,” Phelps said. That’s why all visitors will have to be buzzed in through this entrance and show a form of identification to enter the building during school hours. Along with some of the safety features are cameras in the ceilings and keyed access to certain areas.
The ability to grow is now possible, having moved the overcrowded pre-kindergarten programs to the new facility, which also frees up space at the elementary school for more enrollment. Four classrooms were built for both preschool and kindergarten ages, and Phelps said the enrollment stays open until all classes are full. The classrooms have smart tables and boards, a true 21st century tool for the students and teachers, wherein a student can draw something on the table with a no-mess smart pen, the teacher can download their work, put it on the board and even show it to the parents to track progress throughout the year.
For the young children now on the MS-HS grounds, there is a new playground as well as their own kitchen and dining area so as to keep the young children separated from the older students.
One of the biggest, most noticeable changes when entering the updated MS-HS side of the building is the new gym, complete with new backed bleachers. A two-way stage attached to the gym and the auditorium, on the back side, brings a cost efficiency to the space, Phelps said. On the gym side, sporting events, graduation, prom, etc. can be held. While on the auditorium side, the stage serves perfectly for an activity needing the acoustics for a play, music concert, etc.
The auditorium or as they call it, the “cafetorium,” is connected to an all-new kitchen and will serve as the cafeteria where the early childhood students will eat their meals.
“This is truly a multi-functional space and all for less than what many schools spend on just an auditorium,” Phelps said. “And how many times will a school use an auditorium? But how many times will we use this (the two-way stage, gym and auditorium)? This will be used every single day.”
Taking a trip to the new fitness center, Phelps said visitors will see how the equipment — able to track a user’s time, repetitions and other information — rivals any fitness gym. And with a membership for $40 per year, available to city residents and those with children in the school district, he said people just can’t go wrong and it works to create a greater sense of community.
“This is the town’s school,” he said. “If they can get use out of it, that’s tremendous.”
Another addition is the long-awaited lockers for the middle school students as well as what Phelps calls a collaborative meeting area, nicknamed the “Lion’s Den” with WiFi, smart TVs and comfortable seating.
There are many updates, big and small to the Royalton School District buildings and Phelps said he’d love to see people come use the facilities, see the fruits of the labors of this project and hopes the pride taken in the appearance of the school will be reflected in how the students feel about their school and in turn, improve how they perform in class.
Phelps is passionate about education and kids learning, he said. He sees these improvements to the school as opportunities to bring a modern way of teaching and learning to the kids of Royalton.