ELKTON — After crews worked feverishly all summer to complete construction on the new Gilpin Manor Elementary School, the building will be ready to open its doors to students for the first day of school Sept. 4.
Perry Willis, executive director of support services for Cecil County Public Schools, said several other projects delayed the Gilpin Manor construction — a handful of boiler projects, a couple of roofs, improving the safety and security of school entrances, and inclement weather over the winter.
But through all of that, the contractor Mullan and the rest of the team got the job done.
“Thankfully, everybody pulled together and pulled it off in the end,” Willis said. “That’s what’s important. There’s lots of teamwork going on here between the contractor and his subcontractors and then our folks pitching in.”
With Rising Sun High School and Elk Neck Elementary School having been built in 1991, Willis said Gilpin Manor marks the first time in nearly 30 years that CCPS will be getting a new school from scratch.
“Usually we just renovate them or put additions on them, so we’re really proud of it,” he said.
Gilpin Manor spans 65,700 square feet — bigger than the old building by about 7,000 square feet — and comes with a $19.3 million price tag, for approximately $293 per square foot, according to Willis.
Despite the new Gilpin Manor being only 7,000 square feet larger than the old building, Willis said “it feels a lot bigger” due to its efficient design.
“There was very little wasted or leftover space here,” he said. “When you’re talking about an elementary school full of 500 plus kids, having two main accesses of travel is very important.”
Principal Kecia Nesmith became principal of Gilpin Manor in 2016, the same year that construction began on the school.
Nesmith said she is proud to be the first principal in the new building, and she is excited for her students to experience the new environment.
Although she is waiting until students to move in to determine her favorite part of the building, Nesmith said the integrated art studio is “a nice touch.”
“It has the rubber floor, it has the mirrors, so students can learn about movement and also see it in a safe place,” she said. “Also, the fact that these doors (of the IA studio) open up, they can put on a performance and have a nice show.”
The integrated arts studio’s glass doors can open up into the hallway where wooden seating along the wall allows small audiences to watch students perform. The studio is part of a “specials” classes wing that also includes music and art classrooms.
For the first marking period, students will enter the building through a secondary entrance until construction near the main entrance is completed.
After that point, students will start their school day by going through the main entrance where they will be required to go through the front office. Visitors will also need to go through the front office and sign in before they can enter the rest of the school.
In classrooms, interactive monitors have replaced the SMART Boards and projectors that a lot of schools are used to.
“It’s a touch screen monitor much like a Microsoft Surface computer,” Willis said. “The nice thing about these is they go up and down based on the height of the student. If you’re in a second grade class, it can almost drop to the floor. Fifth grade class, you can raise it up to where they can reach.”
Gilpin Manor has also improved accessibility for deaf and hard-of-hearing students with an audio system called FrontRow.
“Basically it’s tied into speaker system so all students hear the same volume as the teacher speaks,” Willis said.
Since the whole classroom’s audio is integrated, if a teacher is showing a video or playing audio from the computer, that volume will also be consistent throughout the classroom
There is also a light at the front of the classroom that will change color depending on an action, such as if the office is calling or if there is an emergency, so that alerts are both audio and visual.
All classrooms have motion-activated lighting that stays on when someone is in the classroom and turns off after the system has not detected movement for a certain period of time.
“If the teacher goes to their planning period or the cafeteria or if class goes out for art or whatever, these will shut down after a certain period of time and so will [the touch-screen monitor],” Willis said.
The lighting was part of Gilpin Manor’s attainment of LEED Silver status. Being LEED Silver certified is a criterion set for by the Public School Construction Program of Maryland.
According to Willis, the state of Maryland has allowed the school to have an extra 3,000 square feet dedicated for community space which sports leagues and other local groups can use outside of regular school hours. Part of that square footage was put into the gymnasium, which Willis said will be larger than a typical elementary school gymnasium.
“It’s not a full size gym like you’d see at a high school, but it is a big enough gym to support community activity,” he said.
One wall of the gym opens onto a two-sided stage that connects to the cafeteria. A curtain on cafeteria side and a folding partition on gymnasium side will be kept closed to reduce noise carrying between the two rooms.
Nesmith said that on movie nights, the school can host more people by showing the movie in both the cafeteria and gymnasium since the sound system works in tandem.
The faculty room is situated close to the cafeteria so teachers will not have to walk far after dropping their students off for lunch.
Handwashing sinks are located outside of the restrooms so teachers can monitor students and make sure they are washing their hands properly.
There is a green space outside of the building adjacent to the back wall of the kitchen where the school can project presentations.
“If they want to have a movie under the stars, they can present it on the wall over hear and have a community night.”
Willis said CCPS uses a document called an Ed Spec when designing a new school so they know what students and teachers need for classroom instruction.
“We refine that every time we do a new building,” he said. “We refine it to make sure it’s up to date with the instructional program that’s being delivered and then we also revisit what we’ve just done to see what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense.”
However, he also acknowledged that it can sometimes be difficult to plan exactly since the most recent Ed Spec is often a few years old by the time a new school gets built. For example, the Ed Spec that was used for Gilpin Manor was 5 years old, Willis said.
That’s why the school system encourages teachers to provide input to see what is working and what could be tweaked in the next school that gets built.
“The feedback from teachers is crucial because these folks will come in and live in the space for the next year,” Willis said. “If they’re not in their mind thinking to themselves, ‘What could have made this space better?,” we can’t really address it when we go down the road for the next new one.”
As CCPS plans a new Chesapeake Elementary School, also to be built from the ground up, Willis said they will look to Gilpin Manor to see what can be improved.
“It’s a lot cheaper to change them on a piece of paper than it is to do it in the future,” he said.
Nesmith said having students get to witness the construction process has been a learning process in itself.
“Many of them have been here through the whole process, so they’ve gotten to see each piece and they actually connected with StudioJAED, the architect, and learned about the process,” she said. “They’ve been each stage, so they’re excited to see the finished project.”
While the school is nearing completion, Nesmith said the learning won’t stop now.
“Even going forward, we’re talking about when they raze the building next door what they can learn about from that process as well,” she said.