On Monday, Aug. 26, the walls of Deer Creek Elementary School Principal Chad Clark’s office were still bare, his desk mostly empty and construction equipment surrounded the building.
But the offices and classrooms throughout the rest of West Fargo’s newest elementary school were already equipped and decorated, ready to greet the more than 300 students, including about 135 sixth graders, who would be walking through the school’s doors in less than 24 hours.
After a year and a half of construction, teachers and staff weren’t allowed inside Deer Creek until Monday, Aug. 19, just a week before it was slated to open Tuesday, Aug. 27.
“I was panicking a little last week,” Clark said. “But to see how everything and everyone just came together to get it done is amazing.”
While Deer Creek will become the district’s 14th elementary school and will house kindergarten through fifth grades, its first year will be unique because it will be home to about 135 sixth graders and Heritage Middle School’s Principal Erin Spies for one year.
Heritage Middle School is currently under construction and expected to open in 2020 after the school district passed a $106.9 million bond to build a third middle school and high school and other school upgrades to ease overcrowding in the secondary schools.
The School Board decided to hire Spies early and house her at Deer Creek to make the transition into a third middle school easier.
Clark said he is expecting about 231 elementary students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade, who will be housed within two wings. There will be three classrooms of kindergartners. Grades one through four will each have two classrooms and then there will be one classroom of fifth graders.
In the third wing, a team and a half will have classes for the sixth graders including art, orchestra and band, Spies said. She said students who are involved with junior high sports or after-school clubs will be bused to Liberty Middle School after classes for activities.
Next year, when the sixth graders are moved to the new six through ninth grade middle school, Deer Creek Elementary will have room for additional kindergarten through fifth grade sections as it is expected to grow as quickly as its surrounding Fargo neighborhood.
A look inside
Construction on the single-level Deer Creek school began last year. At 82,150 square feet, the school is the district's largest, said Business Manager Mark Lemer.
It is also the first school in the district to have unisex bathrooms.
The student bathrooms are not divided into girls and boys, instead each stall has a private wood door with communal hand-washing stations only.
Like other West Fargo schools, classrooms are filled with flexible seating options and grade levels are kept close in each wing. Natural light fills the hallways, showing off the school’s design colors of green, maroon and blue, which blend into the many cherry wood doors and trim throughout the building.
A bus loop will be on the north side of the school with the student drop-off area on the east side. As students enter the main east doors, they can flow into the schools’ common area where breakfast and lunch is served.
“So it’s kind of nice, they can just come in and grab breakfast, then go to class,” Clark said.
Clark, who served for three years as assistant principal at L.E. Berger Elementary before becoming principal there for two years, said he’s excited for the school to open, although the playground will not be ready until mid-September.
Clark said construction on the playground was slowed due to weather but teachers have created a plan to hold outdoor recess with minimal equipment in the meantime.
While most outdoor areas would be finished by the start of school, Clark asked that parents don’t allow students to ride their bike to school until the second week of school.
Despite the rush to open, Spies and Clark said enthusiasm is running high.
“Our teachers are so excited and are so ready,” Spies said. “There’s just a lot of energy all around. This is the best time of the year.”