Jefferson Elementary campus expansion nears completion

Michael D. Smith
A new parking lot for Jefferson Elementary School sits where Carter Street Southeast once crossed Third Avenue Southeast. Principal Myisha Antwine said the upcoming parking lot with "be a hit" with teachers once completed later this year.

A thick dust blew across the construction site as Principal Myisha Antwine surveyed a mound of earth on Wednesday afternoon. She expects that mound of dirt to be a parking lot for visitors of Jefferson Elementary School in a few months and is excited to see about 14,000 square feet of office, gym and performance space open to students and faculty.

After two years of construction work, gravel driveways, traffic bottlenecks and a repurposed classroom as the school office, Antwine said faculty and staff are obviously excited about the newest facility for Ardmore City Schools.

But even two years later, Antwine still remembered how it all started.

“I just want to thank everyone for making this happen, because it did happen with the votes of the community for the bond,” she said.

After failing to approve a school bond in 2017, Ardmore voters approved a $44 million bond issue the following year that included a $5.4 million addition to the Jefferson Elementary campus. Completed in 1989 after a fire destroyed the original structure, the campus saw major upgrades in 2014 that included a 4,800-square-foot addition on the south end of the building.

The mural that once welcomed everyone at Jefferson Elementary School was hidden by construction Wednesday. Crews have spent more than two years working alongside faculty and students to complete the nearly 14,000-square-foot expansion.

While the office space and gymnasium now attached to the east side of the building is nearly three times bigger than the 2014 addition, construction that started in 2018 includes a footprint beyond just the building. Crews have already started work on a new parking lot on the northeast corner of campus, and Antwine said student pickup and drop-off, whether by bus or by car, will soon be safer and faster with dedicated areas.

“Parents won’t have to wait behind buses, or we don’t have to worry about cars in between buses … and then our pickup and drop-off line will just be for cars only,” Antwine said. “It should definitely decrease the wait time for picking up and dropping off.” 

Construction inside the building also continued Wednesday, where a wooden frame around the gymnasium stage contrasted with the unfinished white and grey walls. Full-length windows separating the new entryway and new office area were still marked with blue tape, and a temporary wall blocked access to what once was the school building's main entrance from Carter Street Southeast.

Windows separating the Jefferson Elementary School lobby from the office area are taped for protection during construction. Once completed later this year, the office area will also house a conference room, nurses station and laundry room.

Antwine expressed gratitude for the construction crews that have been working just yards away from active classrooms. She said that crews have been transparent if work would have impacts on school functions and noted that she has not heard complaints from residents in any of the neighboring homes.

The project was expected to be completed in June 2020, according to information from SDG Architects, but Antwine said heavy rains last year caused some delays. She said no other major delays have occurred and expects the facility to be near completion by the end of the year.

The addition not only includes office space for administration and a larger entryway, but includes a large nurses office with shower, a conference room, and laundry room. Even though the space for a washer and dryer will be available, Antwine hopes the community can help furnish it.

“It will help us when we get clothing donations and coats, we can wash them,” she said. “Just keeping everything sanitized, keeping everybody healthy, keeping us safe. And it’s an elementary school. It has tons of stuff that we have to wash,” she said with a laugh.

Once completed later this year, Antwine expects the campus to better host events like graduations, assemblies and events for more than just Jefferson Elementary students. She hopes to see various academic programs, like literacy nights or STEM nights, rotate through campuses across the district, including Jefferson’s upcoming facilities.

Crews work near the stage in the new Jefferson Elementary School gymnasium. The school currently uses a cafeteria for assemblies.

“[W]here we’re just coming together as a family, because all of our kids go to all the different schools,” she said.