Auke Bay children celebrate their new school

The students of Auke Bay Elementary School on Thursday formally thanked the community of Auke Bay, state and local officials, and the City and Borough of Juneau for their new school.

The old school has been completely gutted and renovated, with much of the work done while school was in session.

The celebration

Auke Bay Elementary School sits on Aak’w Kw’aan land.  The Tlingit were the first people of Auke Bay.

Elders Rosa Miller and Albert McKinley offered the Aak’w Kw’aan welcome to the ceremony in Tlingit and English.

“Our land will be yours,”  McKinley said.

In Tlingit regalia, groups from Harborview and Glacier Valley elementary schools danced the response.

Auke Bay fourth graders sang their school song in Tlingit and kindergartners counted in Tlingit.

Each Auke Bay grade made gifts for the elders and other guests —  necklaces, medallions, bookmarks, tea, even devils club salve.  Before the program began, fifth graders gave each arriving guest a jar of blueberry jam made by teachers and staff.

Lori Hoover has been principal at the school for seven years.

“We are privileged to be here on the land of the Aak’w Kw’aan. As the first peoples of this beautiful land, we honor that you have given it to us, and we hope to do good with our kids and honor you through them.”

Auke Bay school has been on Aak’w Kw’aan land since 1968. The renovation was a complete rebuild.

“We wanted to appreciate the people who envisioned and built our school: Architects, engineers, plumbers, carpenters, roofers, all the people that worked here for 15 months and really gave us a beautiful school,” Hoover said.

The project

While the celebration was confined to the school building, it reflects a thank you to Juneau voters, who in 2010 approved $18.7 million in general obligation bonds for the renovation. A year later, voters approved $1.4 million for a ground source heat system for the school.

CBJ architect Catherine Wilkins managed the three-phase project, which began in 2012.

“School got out May 31st and we started June 1st,” she said.  

The kids came back to school that August in a construction zone. Work continued for the entire 2012 -2013 school year.

Hoover said every construction day held another surprise, from fire alarms to blown circuit breakers. Some days there was no heat, and most days there was dust, dirt and noise.

“The building was literally cut in three pieces and demolished,” she said. “Our mantra was we’ll love it when it’s finished.”

The first phase of the renovation was done in January 2013.

“One side of the building was occupied while the other was torn down and rebuilt, and then we swapped sides,” Wilkins said.

Hoover said the kids used it as a learning experience.

“They watched the construction going up and they would peer through the fence. The construction workers kind of became part of our school family,” she said.

Auke Bay teachers and staff were really good sports, Wilkins said, and the children made it a more cheerful project than most.

“They saw this as one big fun adventure, and that really contributed to sort of a happier construction site,” Wilkins said.

Three-hundred thirty-five children are enrolled this year in kindergarten through fifth grade at Auke Bay. Like Lucas Erickson, many of the fifth graders started kindergarten in the old building, spent fourth grade in modular classrooms while their wing of the building was under construction, and are enjoying their final year of grade school in the new building.

Lucas likes the new technology in each classroom.

“Every room has flat screen. We have iPads, and really nice projectors that aren’t all fuzzy,” he said.

About the only resemblance to the old school now is the location. Though all the major work was done when school started last fall, the building still smells new.

“We’ve been poking along picking up some little items that weren’t quite complete at the beginning of the school year and now we are looking at the art acquisition,” Wilkins said.

City law requires that 1 percent of school construction costs be reserved for art work.  Wilkins says artists are invited to submit proposals by May 23.

Auke Bay was the last of a decade of major renovations to Juneau’s oldest elementary schools.  Mendenhall River Community School and Marie Drake are the next buildings for renewal, but there is no time frame for the projects.

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