PITTSBORO — Nearly four years after its land purchase and two years since construction began, the $33 million Chatham Grove Elementary School is set to open Aug. 17 for Chatham County School’s first day of classes.
Faculty and staff only, of course.
Like all other schools in the county, Chatham Grove will start the first nine weeks of the semester remotely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic — meaning it will be at least nine weeks before students and parents walk the school’s newly completed halls.
“It’s been an interesting time to open a school,” Chatham Grove Principal Larry Savage said. “More than anything, it’s a hard time for parents.”
The school will serve about 640 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, though that number could change based on the number of families which choose to homeschool for safety reasons, Savage said. Located at 1301 Andrews Store Rd., across from Margaret B. Pollard Middle School on the corner of Andrews Store Road and Parker Herndon roads, the school will feature Chatham County’s first joint-use recreation facility to be used by the county’s recreation department. The school features a high-tech media center at the front entrance to the school and there are interactive touch-screen TVs installed in each classroom. The TVs are installed at student height, Savage said — “Let’s do it for the kids” — allow classrooms to do work on them, open and close files and watch videos.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, setting up the finishing touches on the school has looked different this year. Still, everything will be ready to go on Aug. 17, even if students will not be at the school physically until much later. Teachers have been able to come to set up their classrooms after signing in at the school’s front office and getting their temperatures checked.
Randy Drumheller, the district’s director of maintenance and construction, said the building’s construction was not delayed at all by the pandemic. Currently, the school is being staged as it would be normally, but Drumheller and Savage said the school has plans for each of the state’s outlined learning options.
“This school and every other school is prepared for either learning plan,” Drumheller said, referring to the state-mandated reopening Plans A, B and C. “So we plan for Plan B, which is the most restrictive, and if we get Plan A, then that’s great.”
Not knowing when students will be at Chatham Grove, Savage has been working to find creative ways to make students and families feel at home at their new school, event if they can’t physically tour it yet. At the end of May, Savage made a video walking through the halls of the school to virtually welcome families.
“I’m worried it’ll be a while before we see kids in here,” he said. “My heart goes out to the families — they’re having to make really hard choices for what’s best for them. It’s very stressful. But we’re just excited to get started. I’ve said once we get to the other side of this we’re going to have a big party, we’re still going do our open house and welcome everybody and we’re excited for that.”
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.