New playground just part of a busy summer for Alta-Aurelia schools

Friday, June 18, 2021

School might be out for summer, but plenty of projects are just heating up for the Alta-Aurelia schools.

The most visible improvement is the new playground nearing completion, realizing a long-held goal to replace the aging wooden structure that had stood for 20-plus years beside the Alta school.

The main part of the new playground was open this week, with some surfacing areas still to be installed in the area of swings that was added to the project, and the musical instruments that line the back side of the play area. That work should be completed in July.

BUDDY BENCH - The new playground includes a special, bright red bench. The idea is simple - if a child feels lonely, they can go to the buddy bench as a signal that they need someone to play with. Another child will see them, go and talk to them and include them in their games.

“It’s pretty neat to see the kids out there, they really like it. It turned out really well, and the children seem to love it,” Superintendent William Walters said. “I’ll be glad when it’s finished.”

The expansive playground comes in at a cost of $303,000, but at that, the district feels it was a deal. “The company has been working mainly in southern Iowa. They are trying to get into our area, and I think they gave us the best bang for our buck. They have been very easy to work with,” Walters said.

The district is also installing two preschool playgrounds, including one to serve the early childhood program at the old high school site.

The playground includes a row of musical instruments children can play, creating sounds like bells and bongos.

Summer projects also include phase two of the re-roofing project at the Aurelia building, a new boiler in the Alta elementary wing, and renovation of the locker rooms at Aurelia with new flooring, shower upgrades and painting for lockers.

The school district is also doing some branding work over the season, including large-scale team logos to cover entry glass at both school buildings, which will be installed in the next couple of weeks.

Not only is the art designed for image enhancement, but serves a safety role as well, as it limits the view of the building interior from outside, Walters said.

Finally, the district has completed work on technology infrastructure, with new internet and wifi systems.

“We’re trying to get things set for a little more normalcy” after some projects were delayed due to the 2020 pandemic. “It feels like we have some catching up to do, so we’re not in a position of having to write big checks every summer.”

Academically, he’s pleased with where things stand. “We feel good about the direction, with our test scores having improved this year. Being face to face makes a difference. There’s a place for virtual learning, but nothing replaces being in the classrooms.”

Walters said that point was driven home for him recently, as he himself was taking a class with fellow educators last week that was able to meet in person. “It is so much more engaging than being online,” he said.

The service goes on after the school year ends, with the summer feeding program serving about 200 children, and summer school with nearly 90 students through 5th grade taking part. The program helps those who need help catching up, and helps others to retain their learning through the summer vacation.

“We also have a ReadNow program that is providing books of their choosing sent home to those who are signed up from pre-K to 3rd grade, and teachers staying in touch with students over the summer,” Walters said.

“The kids like the contact they retain with the school. Some of them really need the food service, and we’re glad to be able to provide it for them.”