URBANA – Thomas Paine Elementary School and the Urbana High School held ribbon-cutting ceremonies as students prepared to return to classes.
The ribbon cutting at the Urbana High School showcased the renovations of their band room.
“They didn’t have enough space for all their instruments. The band lockers were really in disrepair and needed a lot of work,” said Superintendent Jennifer Ivory-Tatum. “We kind of bumped up the wall, added some needed lighting, soundproofing, storage [and] new windows.”
Renovations at Thomas Paine Elementary School included a 25,000 square foot expansion, a new gym and a fine arts wing.
“Thomas Paine is the next to last school that we needed to remodel,” said Ivory-Tatum. “Our next school that we would have remodeled, or we are remodeling – that’s part of the plan is Wiley.”
The superintendent said that they anticipated growth in the population and knew these changes would be necessary.
She said she knew they would have to close Wiley Elementary School for a year for asbestos abatement, so they added eight new classrooms at Thomas Paine for some of Wiley’s 200 students.
“We were forward thinking,” said Ivory-Tatum. “Part of the reason why we added those classrooms was we knew we’d have to do something with Wiley students so when we remodeled it.”
Ivory-Tatum said that she knew there would be growth outside of Wiley’s additional students.
“We’re just trying to keep our promises that were made,” said USD 116 school board president Paul Poulosky.
He said that although these were promises made before anyone on the board was present it was still important for them to uphold those promises.
“This is the first year when every single child in this district is going to be able to go to a school that has those facilities; that has a separate gym and multipurpose room,” said Poulosky.
Poulosky said before the renovations students wouldn’t be able to take recess properly. Now, he says, students have a proper indoor space to enjoy their recess in cold weather.
However, Poulosky said those major changes aren’t all they did that were of note.
“They all have central air, and they have smart boards, and then the classroom they have new Wi Fi system, and, and all of that,” said Poulosky.
Many students, parents and staff have said they were excited for the changes – most notably for the new gym.
“I wish they did it while I was here because it was very tiny,” said Jacquelyn Butts, a junior in high school and former student of Thomas Paine.
Her younger sister, Abigail, is coming into her final year at Thomas Paine. Jacquelyn said she is excited for her sister to experience the updated school for however short of time.
“I’m happy that she has more room to kind of grow and experience her elementary school life,” said Jacquelyn.
For others, starting at the new school is a little bit more bittersweet. Lajuan Harris has a third-grade daughter coming into Thomas Paine from Wiley.
“I do hope Wiley does open back up and I’m excited for the school year for this school for Thomas Paine and look forward to seeing what activities they have to offer,” said Harris.
Harris’ daughter Skye is entering the third grade. She says she shares some of her mother’s excitement but that she is sad to have to leave Wiley and one of her friends behind.
“I think the students are going to feel really proud to be in a space that is so beautiful. I think it is going to kind of reinvigorate and re-energize our teachers,” said Ivory-Tatum.