Ida Aronica under construction

This photo shows the main entrance, hallway and gym of the Ida Nason Aronica grade school under construction. The school is slated to open fall of 2022.

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The new Ellensburg elementary schools currently under construction are designed with the idea that the best learning doesn’t come from being stuck in a windowless box with no connection to the outside world.

“We want kids and our families to connect to the outdoors and understand that we really care about our environment and that learning is more than just a classroom, it really does involve the whole community,” Ellensburg School District Superintendent Jinger Haberer said.

The schools are the recently named Ida Nason Aronica and a new Mount Stuart Elementary. The two buildings are being built a stone's throw away from each other on Cora Street. The new Mount Stuart is being constructed right next to the old building, which will be torn down when the school year is over. Ida Nason Aronica is being built a little farther north, on the other side of the Iron Horse Trail, Cora Street is being extended by the district to reach the building.

The schools are very similar in design, a square building with an open courtyard in the center. Hallways and classrooms make up the perimeter of the structure. Haberer said it was important to the design team to have a lot of natural lighting, and windows will be spread out through the classrooms, hallways and the gym.

One important feature to demonstrate this design was to add windows to the main entrance, so people entering the building can immediately see the interior courtyard.

This interior courtyard would be a spot for students to study, or teachers to have lessons. Most of the ground will have grass, and small hills will provide students with something to lean on. This will not be the part of the school dedicated to recess, but for studying and learning. Playground equipment will be located outside the building, near where the current Mount Stuart is located.

Another method to encourage community learning are the common study areas in the halls. In many places, an open study area is located across the hall from two classrooms. Teachers from these classrooms can send students out to study or work on a project in groups, even combining the classrooms if they want, so two classes are working on the same project. Teachers can observe these study areas through interior windows.

“It’s that collaborative learning that’s really important to me. It's important to the design team, because that’s where students learn those 21st century skills, is when they are working together,” Haberer said.

Brain Aiken, Executive Director of Business Services for ESD said the district was impressed with the effort and quality the construction company, GARCO, was putting into the building.

Project engineer with GARCO construction, Alex Johnson said they hope buildings will last at least 50-60 years. To ensure its longevity, the building incorporates many steel beams, and is built to survive natural disasters such as earthquakes. Ida Nason Aronica was built to protect against the harsh winds seen in Ellensburg.

Aiken said another point they wanted to get right was the gyms. They needed to be fully functional while still providing a spot for students to get exercise and play sports.

“It’s really important to the community that we didn’t just put multi-purpose rooms in (as gyms),” Aiken said. “The gyms are going to be big enough to play basketball games.”

While the old Mount Stuart will be torn down over the summer, the gym for the building will stay up, and will continue to be used by the district.

Despite having similar building layouts, the district wanted to give each building its own personality and feeling. To accomplish this, they will have different mascots and different art design in the hallways.

Construction of the new Mount Stuart will be completed over the summer, and students will be able to attend class in it for the start of school in the fall. Ida Nason Aronica will likely be completed fall 2021.

“A huge thank you to our community,” Haberer said. “Our community deserves beautiful schools like this and we just so much appreciate their support for the bond projects and we just feel so fortunate to live in a community that really loves and supports their schools.”

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