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Schools make final preparations as students return from summer break

Published: Saturday, Sept. 5 2015 10:46 a.m. MDT

Neil Armstrong Academy, a Granite School District elementary school specializing in science, technology, engineering and math, is being prepared for students, Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, in West Valley City. The first day of school is Wednesday. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Neil Armstrong Academy, a Granite School District elementary school specializing in science, technology, engineering and math, is being prepared for students, Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, in West Valley City. The first day of school is Wednesday. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

WEST VALLEY CITY — Teachers and faculty at Neil Armstrong Academy on Monday were preparing for the first day of school by arranging desks and setting out notebooks and pencils.

Their work took place alongside the flurry of construction as crews worked to tile what will be the school's cafeteria, install and clean glass panelling, and remove a large pile of empty cardboard boxes and pallets from outside the school's front doors.

Just days ago, visiting Neil Armstrong Academy required the use of a hard hat, but school officials are confident it will be in working order to welcome students on the first day of school Wednesday.

"There's certainly apprehension along the way," Principal Tyler Howe said of watching the construction progress. "(Tuesday) is going to be another big day."

Neil Armstrong Academy, a Granite School District elementary school specializing in science, technology, engineering and math, is being prepared for students, Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, in West Valley City. The first day of school is Wednesday. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Neil Armstrong Academy, a Granite School District elementary school specializing in science, technology, engineering and math, is being prepared for students, Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, in West Valley City. The first day of school is Wednesday. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

The school is uniquely designed to emphasize education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, collectively referred to as STEM. Its student body is split evenly between nearby residents and open enrollees, with approximately 800 students on a waiting list, Howe said.

In the coming days and weeks, the remaining floor tiling will be completed, lab equipment will be installed and outdoor landscaping will transition the current dirt lot that surrounds the school into grass and trees.

"It's mostly the finishing touches," Howe said. "You want your car to be washed."

Armstrong Academy isn't the only school hastily working to prepare for the new year. Work continues to varying degrees at another four schools in Granite School District, but spokesman Ben Horsley said the projects are progressing on schedule and classrooms will be ready for students Wednesday.

Neil Armstrong Academy, a Granite School District elementary school specializing in science, technology, engineering and math, is being prepared for students, Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, in West Valley City. The first day of school is Wednesday. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Neil Armstrong Academy, a Granite School District elementary school specializing in science, technology, engineering and math, is being prepared for students, Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, in West Valley City. The first day of school is Wednesday. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

"There will be construction workers on scene working on a handful of details," Horsley said. "When you come down to the wire like that, they just prioritize what needs to be done."

Site and landscape work continues at Granger Elementary and Olympus Junior High, he said, and building construction is ongoing at the new site for the Hartvigsen School, which houses roughly 200 special education students.

At Stansbury Elementary, construction of additional classroom space is expected to continue through the fall.

"There’s a whole other wing that’s being added to that school that won’t be completed until Christmas," Horsley said.

In Canyons School District, the first day of class was held Monday at Draper's new Corner Canyon High School. Principal Mary Bailey said there were a few glitches throughout the day, which she said is to be expected when moving into a new building.

Neil Armstrong Academy, a Granite School District elementary school specializing in science, technology, engineering and math, is being prepared for students, Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, in West Valley City. The first day of school is Wednesday. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Neil Armstrong Academy, a Granite School District elementary school specializing in science, technology, engineering and math, is being prepared for students, Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, in West Valley City. The first day of school is Wednesday. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

"We didn’t have bells or an intercom first thing this morning, so we’re asking our teachers to help sweep kids into classrooms," Bailey said.

The school also had to deal with a shortage of food and lunch supplies as deliveries arrive at Corner Canyon throughout the week. Bailey said administrators were able to make do by sharing food with sister schools in Canyons School District.

"It’s a lot like going to the neighbor and borrowing a cup of sugar," she said.

Bailey said there is still construction being done on the school, though it is mostly "behind the scenes" mechanical and site work that doesn't disturb or interrupt classes. In some hallways, desks and equipment have been delivered but not yet assembled and put away, she said.

Fifth-grade teachers Jennifer Bodell, left, and Mysti Hedquist get ready for students at Neil Armstrong Academy, a Granite School District elementary school specializing in science, technology, engineering and math, Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, in West Valley City. The first day of school is Wednesday. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Fifth-grade teachers Jennifer Bodell, left, and Mysti Hedquist get ready for students at Neil Armstrong Academy, a Granite School District elementary school specializing in science, technology, engineering and math, Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, in West Valley City. The first day of school is Wednesday. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

"Our plan is to just be flexible for at least a week," Bailey said, "and when things crop up, teachers come and let us know so we can deal with it."

The opening of Corner Canyon High School coincided with a districtwide grade reconfiguration that sees ninth-graders moving to Canyons high schools and sixth- graders attending middle schools.

District spokeswoman Jennifer Toomer-Cook said the reconfiguration, which has been in the works for several years, went into effect Monday with very few hiccups.

"Our principals are telling us that it went remarkably smoothly and even more smoothly than they anticipated," she said. "We’re feeling really good about that. We’ve been communicating this to patrons since 2010."

Jordan School District will open Copper Mountain Middle School in Herriman when classes begin Monday. District spokeswoman Sandra Riesgraf said the school held an open house two weeks ago and is essentially completed and ready for the arrival of students.

Neil Armstrong Academy, a Granite School District elementary school specializing in science, technology, engineering and math, is being prepared for students, Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, in West Valley City. The first day of school is Wednesday. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Neil Armstrong Academy, a Granite School District elementary school specializing in science, technology, engineering and math, is being prepared for students, Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, in West Valley City. The first day of school is Wednesday. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

"Pretty much everything is in," she said. "I think there’s just minor things that they are adjusting."

The new middle school will open at near capacity, and several of the district's portable classrooms have been reallocated to address growth in Jordan School District, Riesgraf said.

The district has broken ground on a new elementary school, and residents will vote in November on a nearly $500 million bond to finance the construction of new buildings.

"We have an increasing demand for more portables and more schools this year, so we’re dealing with that," Riesgraf said.

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com Twitter: bjaminwood

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