Students, teachers and community members alike are enjoying the new addition to the Collins Elementary School. Collins-Maxwell Superintendent Jason Ellingson said the project has brought a "great sense of community pride" to a district that already has pride in its schools.

"People of Collins have been excited to watch it and people from Maxwell have driven over to see it," Ellingson said of the construction process.

Though completion is still about one month away, the addition has been open to classes since the beginning of the school year. It is 7,500 square feet in size, with 1,500 square feet of improvements made to areas in the existing building. The new space includes a cafeteria, preschool room, art room and administrative offices.

One of the main objectives of the project was to get the preschool students and teachers closer to the elementary students and teachers. The Maxwell Community Center was the previous location of the preschool classes, with students using the park in Maxwell for their recess area. Now the morning and afternoon preschool classes are held in one large classroom in the new addition. With preschool and elementary classes in the same building, teachers are better able to collaborate among one another. Elementary principal Jeff Watson said elementary teachers will often sit in on the preschool classes to observe students who will soon be kindergartners. Along with the new classroom space, a playground will soon be added outside the classroom that is designed especially for preschool-aged students, per state code, Watson said.

The project also consisted of transforming several existing areas within the school into new spaces for student instruction. What used to be the cafeteria has now been converted to a large music room, complete with storage space for musical instruments. This puts an end to students having to climb up and down the steep cement stairs to get to the old music room, which was located in the basement of the school.

Besides being a place for students to eat, the former cafeteria was also used for art classes. Collins-Maxwell Superintendent Jason Ellingson said the dedicated space for art instruction will allow students to be more creative. The type of projects students can do will also be expanded with the purchase of a kiln for the elementary students.

"We wanted to beef up the experience students can have in the fine arts," Ellingson said.

He hopes teachers will use the art room, when it is not occupied, to do such things as conduct science experiments with the students, thanks to the availability of wash sinks for cleaning up.

The former administration office, which was located in the center of the existing building, was also rennovated. It now consists of a classroom for Title I and talented and gifted (TAG) students, office spaces and rooms where teachers can meet with students.

Now that the new administration office is situated at the entrance of the building, it enables increased security for the building. Inside the front entryway is a second set of doors that are locked throughout the school day. All visitors to the school must check in at the office to the left of the entryway before entering the rest of the building. Prior to the move, visitors would not always check in at the office.

Environmentally-friendly aspects were included in the design that will save the school money over time. Large windows make up the west wall of the new cafeteria. Some of those windows consist of electrochromic glass, which can be electronically switched to become tinted in order to decrease the amount of heat from the sun that comes into the cafeteria during the afternoon. A row of windows near the ceiling on the north wall of the cafeteria also allow light to enter the room without heating up the room. To save on energy bills, a geothermal system was installed to heat and cool the school. Also, the decision was made to replace all of the carpet in the school as part of the addition project. The new carpet is made from recycled carpet.

"The board made an effort to make sure all the classrooms benefitted from the addition project," Ellingson said.

The teachers also played a role in the project. Architects consulted with the teachers to see what desires they had for their classrooms. Watson said the teachers were very enthusiastic to help get the work done on the existing classrooms, despite having to remove everything from the rooms in order to have new carpet laid. That same excitement propelled the district into the start of classes in August.

"The enthusiasm just came with everyone when the school year began," Watson said.

Ellingson said even the students were excited when they walked into the new addition on the first day of school.

"Seeing the students’ eyes when they were coming in reinforced that all the time and energy put into the project was worth it," Ellingson said.

The district has been planning for the addition since the fall of 2010 when the first bond vote was held. Originally, the district had planned to construct the addition to the elementary and make improvements to the combined middle school and high school building in Maxwell at the same time. However, the board interpreted the 55 percent approval the second bond vote received "as the community wanting to move forward but not feeling it could handle both projects at once," Ellingson said.

The addition costs approximately $2.2 million and is being funded by sales tax revenue bonds. Cost Planning and Management International, Inc. (CPMI) of Des Moines was in charge of the construction of the addition, with architecture work done by RDG Planning and Design of Des Moines.