By Donnie Fetter News Editor Twitter @DonnieFetter
Columbia County school officials, parents and pupils celebrated the opening of the new Baker Place Elementary School on Thursday with a ribbon cutting ceremony that preceded an open house.
School board Chairwoman Regina Buccafusco asked parents and pupils to embrace their new school, noting it is the third school built in her tenure on the board because of growth in the Grovetown area.
"Make it a part of your community," Buccafusco said after encouraging parents to regularly drop by and visit the school.
The new school on Baker Place Road behind Grovetown High School pulled pupils from Cedar Ridge, Lewiston and Euchee Creek elementary schools to comprise its population. In all, about 650 pupils will attend the school when classes start Monday.
School officials had expected the campus to open with about 500 students, but the area has experienced faster-than-expected growth.
Jordan Brooks, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Baker Place Elementary, saw her new school for the first time on Thursday.
"I like the newness of it," she said. "It looks fresh."
Last year, Jordan attended Lewiston Elementary School and said she recognized many of her classmates from there during the open house.
"I know a lot of people already, but it'll be nice making some new friends," she said.
Though it has 51 classrooms like all other new elementary schools in Columbia County, Baker Place includes a unique architectural feature for an elementary school -- the entrance is two-stories high and features a foyer.
"It adds a level of security most schools don't have," said Baker Place Principal Leeann Fleischauer, who previously was assistant principal at Cedar Ridge Elementary School.
"When you come in the front doors, you have to go to the office and sign in. The double doors to the school itself will remain locked."
Construction on the $11.9 million school got underway in December 2009, with some building elements still going on as late as last month.
It is the ninth new public school built in Columbia County since 2000.