A portrait of A. Dorothy Hains sits above the main entrance of the elementary school named for her on Windsor Spring Road, as it has for about 50 years.
The school she keeps watch over today is a world away from what was first built in 1961, however.
A year and a half after the aging A. Dorothy Hains Elementary School was demolished, the new building constructed on the same site opened Friday for students and staffers. The $10.8 million building features robotics and science labs, skylights for natural light and areas for hands-on engineering projects – all to accommodate the school’s new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics magnet program.
“It’s becoming a rallying point in this community,” Principal Gordon Holley said. “There’s never been anything like this, especially on the south side. It’s a one of a kind school.”
The building was paid for using the 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax revenue approved by voters in Richmond County. It is the last project from Phase III of the tax to be completed, where more than $170 million of construction improvements and technology went into the schools.
The district is now in the beginning stages of Phase IV of the tax, which includes about $140 million of projects approved by voters in March.
Most of the Tier I projects, such as a $20 million makeover for Butler High and $1.75 million of renovations to Wheeless Road Elementary schools, are still in the preliminary design stages.
Richmond County Board of Education member Jack Padgett said the new Hains school will be a model for future magnet programs in the district to follow.
Beside the educational features, it has an air system that could save 40 percent on energy costs and high-tech telephones that act in place of panic buttons for emergencies, Padgett said.
“It’s our first STEM school, and at the earlier grades I think parents will want to put a particular push on their kids to get there because (technology) is where the employment will be in the future,” he said of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program.
Holley said the STEM curriculum began last year while pupils and staffers were temporarily housed at the old Tubman Middle School building on Bungalow Road. With about 400 pupils currently enrolled, the school will have an application process to accept a capacity of 500 students in the 2013-14 year.
Holley said he also plans to apply for STEM certification from the state department, a designation given to schools that meet rigorous criteria such as business and industry partnerships and high levels of math and science instruction. There are six schools in Georgia that have been given the designation, according to the state department.
Philip Bertling, Hains’ STEM coordinator, said students have been energized with the privilege of learning in such a high-tech school.
The day’s schedule is built around the 45-minute engineering, robotics and science classes, and each subject, including things such as reading and language arts, has some sort of STEM focus integrated in all grades.
“We now have the added space we needed,” Bertling said. “The wet labs are really high school level labs, and it kind of gets the students in the mind set of doing science.”
With such a high-tech elementary school now in the south Augusta community, DeRee Smith, a member of Delta Cappa Gamma International, which Hains founded in Georgia, said her organization has taken a renewed focus in the school.
It recently received a $2,500 grant to purchase engineering materials for hands-on projects and is working to create a memorial garden for Hains that will feature an outdoor learning classroom.
She said the school has brought an added lift to a low socioeconomic area, which has brought a new hope.
“The community needed this,” Smith said. “I think sometimes esthetics can do a lot to impact and uplift the community, and we definitely need parents to be inspired to join in, whether it be a sustainable garden or in their child’s education. We need to do that.”