Students will attend class at the Timberland building while Vose Elementary School is rebuilt

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Vose Elementary teacher Janice Lewis leads her class out for physical education.As a steady stream of Vose Elementary School students trickle down a staircase and into a bright, open cafeteria space, they gaze around at a school building they’ve only known for a week.

But the teachers and administrators guiding them through the first week of school are familiar faces, including longtime instructional assistant Paula Whited — affectionately known as “Chica.”

“It’s been hectic, but they’re doing awesome,” said Whited. “We’re getting a workout because we’re not used to such a big space.”

When asked how they like the building, which they’ll attend during the 2016-17 school year while Vose Elementary is rebuilt, a table of third-graders chimed in near-unision, “We love it!”

“I tell them, ‘This is not our school. We are guests,’” said Whited. “It’s special, so we need to take good care of it.”

The “swing school” will serve “guest” students for the next four years, hosting William Walker Elementary, Hazeldale Elementary, and the Arts and Communication Magnet School in successive years as those schools are demolished and rebuilt.

After four years as a swing school, the as-yet-unnamed school, known colloquially as the Timberland building, will become a new middle school.

The school is also housing middle schoolers from the Springville K-8 school to relieve its overcrowding.

“We’re the guinea pigs,” said Melissa Holz, vice principal of Vose Elementary.

Tight turnaround

Just a week before school started, workers and staff were still walking around in hard hats. The building construction was completed this summer, but since then, teachers have been scrambling to get classrooms ready for instruction.

Students and teachers alike have had to be flexible to adjust to a later school start time.

Ultimately, the space was built as a middle school, evidenced by fresh paint on lockers for future middle schoolers and informal lunch seating on oversized stairs, neither of which Vose Elementary students will use.

But many of the building’s facilities have teachers excited.

In Janice Lewis’ class, first-graders solved math problems on small whiteboards while she wrote class instructions on an entire wall which is a write-able, whiteboard surface.

“It’s been very exciting,” said Lewis. “We want our kids in a beautiful learning environment.”

Among learning features are a tech-maker’s area, a music room, communal flex spaces for small group use, and an outdoor science courtyard for hands-on experiments.

Robin Fog, a fifth-grade teacher, said her students are sad that they won’t be back at the Timberland building next year.

It’s “a little bit bittersweet,” she said. “They get to see this new building, but it’s not Vose entirely and they don’t get to go back.”

Riding the busTIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Vose Elementary assistant principal Melissa Holz helps students to the cafeteria during lunch time.

Most students walked to the old Vose Elementary School, but now, they’re taking the bus to the swing school near the Cedar Mill neighborhood, five miles north.

The majority of Vose Elementary students are riding school buses for the first time.

One of them is third-grader Aja Balmer.

“It was really cool and fun because my neighbor goes on the same bus and I get to walk home with her,” said Aja. “It’s a long ride but it’s fun because you get to see all the nature outside.”

Students travel a half-hour or more on their commute, and navigating drop-offs to new bus routes has been a challenge for some parents.

“Some of the families ... have to walk three or four blocks to the bus and they just don’t understand why,” said Whited.

Parents often come to Whited, who has been working at Vose for 16 years, with their concerns.

“They say, ‘Chica. Chica. What can you do for me?’” said Whited. “And I say, ‘You have to go advocate for your children.’”

Last Saturday, the district held a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the Vose Elementary rebuild. At the start of the 2017-18 school year, students will be back in their neighborhoods in a brand-new building.

“There are some things with the (swing school) building, we’re telling teachers, ‘Don’t get too attached,’” said Holz. “It’s only 185 days.”