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New primary school gets finishing touches

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The halls at Mount Zion Primary School are filled with the sounds of power drills and hammers this week, but the sounds of 534 children, learning math, music and language arts, will soon fill the halls.

When the 2008-09 school year begins on Aug. 7, the Clayton County school system will celebrate the opening of the new primary school, which is located next to Mount Zion Elementary School. As the school year approaches, administrators, teachers, the district's maintenance employees, and workers from various contractors, are busy putting the finishing touches on the new facility.

"People are so excited," said Denise Thompson, the school's principal. "Teachers are contacting me daily, asking if they can get in the building yet, and start getting their classrooms ready ... The anticipation is building. Parents are calling, asking how they can get their students into our attendance boundaries."

The primary school, which can house as many as 750 students, is not designed to look like other elementary schools which the school system has opened in recent years. Those have two long wings, which are connected by a few hallways.

At the center of Mount Zion Primary School, is an outdoor amphitheater, and the school building wraps around it in a semi-circle. Three classroom wings reach outward from the building. "I think it looks like a ray of sunshine," Thompson said.

One of the main features school system officials are pleased with about the school is a tiered reading pit in the school's library. "It's very attractive because of its tiered seating, which leads down to a small area where a teacher can sit and read to students, or a small play can be put on," said Ronnie Watts, the school system's director of construction.

Several teachers were moving into the building on Monday, including Wetonia Ray, who was also at Kemp Primary School when it opened five years ago. She said teachers quickly learn to adapt to moving into a new school while contractors are coming in and out of the classrooms to do touch-up painting, or to work on electrical outlets.

"You pretty much learn to make do because it happens so often when you move into a new school," said Ray.

Dorethea Hill, another teacher, said she is anxious to move into the school. Hill previously taught at Mount Zion Elementary School. The elementary school's lower grade levels will be transferred to the primary school. She was curious as she looked out of the window from her old classroom and saw the non-traditional-looking primary school being built.

"My immediate thought was 'Hmmmm, they are building something different over there,'" Hill said.

As the teachers were busy getting their classrooms ready in the building, landscapers were outside doing touch-up work on the grass. Landscapers from Estes Lawn Maintenance have spent the last two months cutting the grass and making sure newly planted trees and shrubbery received enough water.

"The lack of rain has been our biggest enemy," said Jimmy Simpson, president of the maintenance division of Estes Lawn Maintenance. "Mother nature has definitely not been on our side."

The contractors who built the school beg to differ, though. "You normally count on two to three weeks of delays because of the rain, but we didn't need that," said Bill Wilson, general superintendent from MWC Construction. "One of the things we had to adjust to was the fact that this was a non-typical school, it has a lot of new features, and it's just a state-of-the-art school."