GARY | About 253 21st Century Charter School students in grades seven through 12 marched Wednesday morning to their new school building in the 700 block of Washington Street.
The charter school launched construction of its second building in June. The new $6.5 million building has 50,000 square feet on two floors. It is two blocks south of the current building at 556 Washington St.
The first building previously housed all students in kindergarten through 12th grade. It will now be dedicated to 420 youngsters in kindergarten through sixth, while the new building will house grades seven through 12.
There was an air of excitement Wednesday morning as high school students gathered in the gymnasium before school started at 8 a.m. As the students lined up, they chattered about classes, what the new building might look like and after-school plans.
Senior Ahronai Bandy, 17, likes the new building but doesn't expect to see much of it this school year. Bandy is taking four classes at Ivy Tech Community College Northwest and expects to be one of three students next spring graduating with an associate degree. "It's nice here. There's lots of space," she said.
Bandy said she's looking forward to attending college, majoring in human services with plans to be a counselor or social worker.
Kevin Teasley, president and CEO of the Indianapolis-based GEO Foundation, the management company for 21st Century Charter School, said the old building was overcrowded with more than 660 students. He said it was designed to hold only 600 students. He said some of the students have gone on educational field trips during the first part of the school year to relieve overcrowding at the old building.
Gary Building Commissioner Steven Marcus issued a partial certificate of occupancy to the charter school late Tuesday, so the school can use a portion of the first floor at 729 Washington St. for classes.
Elementary school teacher Nicole McIntosh, who has been with the charter school since its inception in 2005, walked over to see the new building. "It's nice to see another building going up. ... the extra space was definitely needed," she said.
High school English teacher Deborah Williams asked her students to be seated as they walked into their new classroom. Laptops and other new technology was already in place; minutes later, Williams made her first assignment of the day, asking students to write their impressions of the new building.
"I appreciate the opportunity of being part of all of this. To have the experience and opportunity to work with children in this new setting is wonderful," Williams said
At night, the new building also will house Gary Middle College, also managed by the GEO Foundation, which is a charter school geared to people returning to school to earn a high school diploma.