When standing in the parking lot in front of the new Tilden Elementary Center, one cannot help but be impressed with the size of the place.Visitors will have to remind themselves that this is, after all, an elementary school, a 107,000-square-foot elementary school at that.

Upon entering the spacious lobby visitors are met by their tour guide for the day, Superintendent Steven Keifer. He is quick to smile as he greets the many employees and school staff throughout the building, who are busily working to get the school ready for its first day on Aug. 25.

"This is a state of the art facility," Keifer said. "I hope that the community is proud of what they have provided (through tax dollars) for the school district."

A Large Group Instruction (LGI) Room is located straight ahead when entering the lobby. Keifer called it a "high tech LGI (room) that will allow students to take virtual field trips."

The cafeteria is located behind the LGI Room. Keifer called this space unique because it opens up into the LGI Room and forms an auditorium that seats 700 people. The wall between the two rooms retracts and bleachers are pulled out in the cafeteria space to form the auditorium.

"Most of the time this space will be the cafeteria," he said. "The auditorium will be used for events, such as a holiday concert."

A short distance down the hallway is the gymnasium which Keifer estimates to hold from 200 to 250 people. He notes that gym classes can be held throughout the day with no interruptions. Gym classes at the three former elementary schools (Hamburg, Stausstown and Upper Bern) were held in multi-purpose rooms that also served as a cafeteria and auditorium.

The floors in the hallways are maroon and gold and are made of stained polished concrete. Keifer said that the floors are "basically indestructible and easy to maintain, requiring only to be washed, not waxed. They are a money saver."

He said that he is impressed with the building's energy conscious design.

"The exterior walls are super insulated and were pre-assembled off-site which made them quicker to install," Keifer said. "The lights in the rooms are on sensors and can get brighter or dimmer depending on the amount of sunlight entering the room."

Each grade has its own wing in the building with kindergarten through second grade on the first floor and grades three through five on the second floor. There are bathrooms in all of the kindergarten and first grade classrooms.

There are six classrooms for each grade with class size at approximately 20 to 22 students. Classrooms are set up with the latest in technology, such as promethean boards and white boards, Keifer said. There are also classrooms for music, band, foreign language, art and special education.

"At the former elementary schools, teachers for these classes had to visit each class and even travel between schools," he said. "The amount of space in this school is a benefit, and it will help make us more efficient as a school district."

One person who is thrilled with the spacious surroundings is librarian Paul Havanko.

"Having a large library will allow for different things to go on at the same time uninterrupted," Havanko said. "There is a reading corner where students will have stories read to them without interfering with other activities in the room."

"Another benefit is that the lighting is reflective and not fluorescent. Natural lighting is better for learning," he said.

Havanko said that the library will contain approximately 18,000 to 19,000 library materials and 13 computer stations.

One area that all kids will enjoy is the playground. A unique feature to this area is mulch that is made from recycled tires. Keifer said that this spongy surface will not deteriorate or blow away.

"The credit for the playground belongs to the Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO) from the three former elementary schools that raised the money," he said.

Keifer said that the school was designed to be child friendly and that the building is handicap accessible with many ramps and an elevator.

School buses will pickup and drop off students in the back of the building at the kindergarten entrance in order to minimize confusion for the younger students. Parents, visitors and teachers will park in the front of the building.

A soccer field and a baseball field will also be built on the property.

"Building a new school is an extra responsibility for many people, such as Mark Fretz, our facilities director, and Principal Shawn Fitzpatrick," Keifer said. "They have put in quite a few extra hours. I also want to thank the custodians for their hard work in very hot conditions."

Keifer said that the Tilden Elementary Center will have approximately 700 students and that the $27-million project will come in under budget.

"We have not had to touch our contingency fund of $900,000 and change orders for the project are $30,000 to the good," he said.

Keifer said that there will be a grand opening for the public on Saturday, Sept. 6 at 10 a.m. at the school.

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