Craig-Houghton Elementary School opened its doors for the first time Wednesday morning, ushering in wide-eyed children, a new year and a new millennium.
The best thing about Richmond County's newest elementary school, with its brightly colored walls, high ceilings and big windows, just might be that it looks like an elementary school.
"It's beautiful," Darren Kent, an 8-year-old third-grader, said as he surveyed the cafeteria. "I like it a lot."
The teachers, who spent most of Monday and Tuesday getting their classrooms ready for Wednesday's influx of pupils, had arrived earlier in the morning and gathered on the steps in the front foyer for a group photo.
"It's like beginning the first day of school all over again," schoolteacher Sharon McAlevy said.
Construction on the $7.5 million, 41-classroom school began in June 1999 as part of an ambitious districtwide rebuilding process, school officials said. The school was completed last month and opened its doors Wednesday.
The school combines the former Craig and Houghton elementary schools, bringing together nearly 700 children under one roof at the corner of Hale and Fourth streets.
Charles Larke, Richmond County school superintendent, said his goal is to rid the county's schools of portable classrooms by 2004.
"Our children deserve a quality education in a quality elementary school setting," he said.
Dr. Larke said three more new elementary schools - Sue Reynolds, Hephzibah and Levy White - should be ready by August.
With Gov. Roy Barnes pledging Tuesday to spend part of the state budget surplus on the largest K-12 school construction program in state history, Dr. Larke's plans to rebuild Augusta's schools couldn't have come at a better time.
Dr. Larke said Craig-Houghton's gymnasium, complete with basketball courts and a stage, is one of his favorite aspects of the new school building. He said it is something that will help redefine education in the coming years.
Principal Doris James said she can't help but think of the school that used to be where the new one stands and marvel at the incredible differences.
"I feel very comfortable here," she said. "The air seems easier to breathe. It's different. It feels good to be here. The quality of air is better. We have even temperatures throughout the building. It's spacious. It's almost like stepping into a mall."
Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.