Students have had a little time to settle in to their new digs at the Earling Learning Center, and plans are now underway to showcase West Liberty's newest educational gem to the public.
The West Liberty School District will host a ribbon cutting and open house on Monday, Oct. 23, from 6-7:30 p.m. at the new ELC. The building has been a multi-year project, and part of the district’s long-term capital plan to accommodate growing enrollment.
The district serves approximately 170 preschool and kindergarten aged students, and the new building was completed just in time for the 2023 school year.
“We are very happy to have students in the new building,” said Superintendent, Shaun Kruger. “School construction projects across our area have experienced significant delays due to supply chain constraints, so we were thrilled that we could start in the new ELC instead of having to move part way through the school year.”
The new ELC is a significant upgrade from the former building in look and function. Some highlights include larger classrooms, modern design, ADA and code compliance, and more square footage to accommodate district growth. It also increases efficiencies for the district in staffing, use of recreational facilities, and busing.
“It is so much nicer to have all of our elementary students in one building,” said Principal, Kirk Ryan. “I can’t count all the hours I spent last year just commuting between two buildings. The new school is much nicer – modern, larger, and better suited to meet our needs as we grow.”
The entire community is invited to the ribbon cutting event. There will be a ribbon cutting and short program at 6:00pm. After the program, the building will be open for people to tour the new school and meet some of the staff.
“Our staff is second to none,” said Ryan. “They deserve this building as much as the students. I’m looking forward to a great school year with my entire team.”
The ELC building will have a new, customized playground, which is a capital project spearheaded by Kalya Morrison, a district nurse. The playground structure is funded in part by West Liberty Foods and the Ryan Trust and will include a blacktop area, green grass space and some small climbing activities that are developmentally appropriate for 3-6 year olds. This will allow students the opportunity to play on the playground structure itself, enjoy a large green space for organized games and take part in station-type activities on the blacktop area. These activities would include imaginative play, a truck/car area, a hopscotch and jumping rope, as well as running and walking.
New features will include sensory sensitive areas and handicap accessible play areas. Morrison says this is a benefit over the previous playground structure.
“We are a small town, but our school provides services for special needs children starting at age 3,” said Morrison. “We have several students with autism, sensory processing disorders, communication delays and have student(s) who are wheelchair dependent due to cerebral palsy. We want to have an inclusive environment for all children to learn and play outside.”
Morrison said that the play component is critical to early childhood development and academic success in the future.
“Learning through play is a vital component to early childhood education as it exposes students opportunities for personal and collaborative development,” said Morrison. “The children learn fine motor skills such as alternate use of hands, climbing, power grasps, forearm rotation and wrist stability to name a few. They interact with peers through imaginative scenarios and pretend play, which strengthen and teach appropriate social skills. Many of our families have limited access to green space because they live in apartments or multi-family units. Outdoor time at school is critical for children from these families.”
Morrison says the funding from Ryan Trust and West Liberty Foods was critical for completing the project with all the added resources.
“Without the donations the base equipment would have been great for most preschool and kindergarten children,” said Morrison. “Now it’s amazing for all of them to play together in one area. I can’t thank the Ryan Trust board and WLF enough for making this happen.”
Auditorium tech improvements
In addition to the Early Learning Center, the school district also completed several other capital improvement projects. A playground was added specifically for the ELC, the entire kindergarten wing of the elementary school was remodeled, a raised garden was added to the courtyard of the middle school, and new technology was added to the auditorium.
The auditorium technology will better accommodate hosting speaking events and presentations. It will also allow events to be livestreamed for those who can’t attend. This will be a boost for fine arts programs.
“There wasn’t a long-term capital investment plan in place when I got here, and there was a lot of need,” said Kruger. “School finance is complicated, and you really need to be looking 10-15 years out to manage capital expansions. There was a long list that we were behind on and we have started to chip away at it. The new ELC and Athletic Complex are two huge projects that most districts wouldn’t undertake at the same time, but they are desperately needed.”
For the first time the district rolled out an aggressive fundraising campaign that has helped fund and kick-start projects that might otherwise have had a longer timeline.
“The fundraising has been a tremendous boost,” said Kruger. “The foundation continues to raise money, and some of that helped with the technology expansion in the theater. There’s no way we could move as fast as we are without the donors, and I’m extremely appreciative of the community contributions.”
Athletic Complex Update
The new athletic complex is moving along and remains on budget. The original hope was to host one or two football games there this fall, but the ribbon cutting is scheduled for spring.
“Technically, the football field and stadium itself would be ready to host a game this fall, but the rest of the site is still a major construction zone,” said Activities Director, Adam Loria. “The field looks amazing, but anyone can look out there and see a lot of work is left to be done. There is too much safety risk and potential damage to the site if we open it up to the public. We definitely don’t want to start bringing people through the site from outside the community, yet.”
Slated to open in the spring, the new complex will be the top outdoor facility in the conference and one of the best in the state. Superintendent, Shaun Kruger, said these types of facilities are a huge draw for families.
“One of the first things we get asked about by families looking at the district is our athletic programs and facilities,” said Kruger. “The district is working on many initiatives to attract families, including curriculum, academic performance, arts programs, and extra-curricular offerings. No doubt athletic programs and facilities rank at the top.”
Future plans – Indoor training center
The next project for the athletic department is the new indoor training facility. The administration has already held some planning meetings and has renderings for potential layouts.
“We are having discussions about size, layout, and everything going in it,” said Loria. “We have a rendering, and now we are analyzing what needs to be done to meet our needs. We absolutely do not have enough facilities for our student athletes and fine arts students. This building will help a lot.”
The district will shift all focus and planning to the indoor facility after the ribbon cutting at the outdoor facilities. They hope to finalize a building and bid the project next year, with a potential construction start date of 2025.
“This facility was initially five years out, so we are very pleased to be starting sooner than expected,” said Kruger. “There is no way any of this would be happening without the donor support we’ve received. There are still many projects on our wish list, and we plan to keep sharing information about our goals with the public. Fundraising will be an ongoing part of making our district one of the best in the state. West Liberty citizens are some of the most generous and supportive I’ve experienced. I’ve had a great start as superintendent thanks to this community.”