For Bow teachers, building renovations would bring more space, storage and better workflow

  • Principal Lori Kreuger stands in a stairwell at Bow Elementary School on Nov. 29. Eileen O’Grady / Monitor staff

  • Principal Lori Kreuger looks through a binder of photos of the Bow Elementary School building in 1979, the year it was first built. Eileen O'Grady—Monitor staff

  • LPN Sue Dalpra demonstrates the tight quarters in the Bow Elementary School nurse’s office, where opening the restroom door cuts off the hall.

  • Principal Lori Kreuger at Bow Elementary School on Nov. 29, 2022. Eileen O'Grady—Monitor staff

  • The Bow Elementary School building was originally built in 1979. Eileen O'Grady—Monitor staff

  • Teacher Monica Swenson has to teach her class in the multi-use room at Bow Elementary School because of the lack of space. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 12/6/2022 5:52:54 PM

Bow Elementary School math specialist Monica Swenson often works with her small groups of students at a table in the school hallway. In the small elementary school building, where finding enough space to hold classes and small group sessions is a constant challenge, sessions in the hallway – and sometimes the cafeteria – is a matter of necessity.

Swenson, who has been in the job for 20 years, says the hallway can sometimes be a calm and quiet oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the classroom. But at other times the bell rings, and classes start trooping down the hallway en route to lunch and recess, making it difficult for her group to concentrate.

“Once lunches start, you’ve got class after class after class going by,” Swenson said. “My fourth graders can at least partially focus unless their friend goes by, but with a kindergartener, I would just have to end my group.”

Finding space is one of the biggest challenges in the circa-1979 Bow Elementary School building, which administrators hope will be addressed through a renovation and addition project. The project, which has been the subject of discussion in Bow for years, would tackle two issues – safety and security improvements around the school’s main entrance and offices, and the addition of a classroom wing to accommodate Bow’s large and growing student population.

A Renovation and Addition Committee has been meeting biweekly with the goal of bringing a plan to voters at town meeting in March. The Committee will meet with prospective construction companies on Dec. 7 and will bring a proposal to the school board in January, according to Bow School Board member Jennifer Strong-Rain. Any decisions about the project would have to go through the Bow School Board and the town Budget Committee before being put to the voters.

Renovating and expanding the elementary school is an idea that has been in the works for years. In March 2020, the School Board even got as far as a warrant article to allocate $2.7 million for the project and was ready for the town to vote when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. School officials decided the town couldn’t effectively debate such a large project via socially-distanced drive-through voting, and so the School Board amended the warrant to $1, pushing the decision to the future. In 2021, the town agreed to some smaller and more immediate improvements, including roof and HVAC replacement.

Bow’s K to 4 elementary school has an enrollment of 517 students, which is projected to rise to 535 next year. The building has already run out of room for preschool, which was moved to the high school building in 2020. Principal Lori Kreuger says the coming enrollment spike could mean class sizes of 23 students in some grades, or one of the unified arts teachers moving out of their room and onto a rolling cart. In New Hampshire, the average class size is 16 in first and second grade, and 17 in third and fourth.

Kreguer said space is important when thinking about elementary school building design.

“You want to be able to move around,” Kreguer said. “Children do not come to school to just sit all day at their desks or tables. When elementary students are learning, they’re also moving around the room to do that.”

Bow Elementary teachers have become experts at making the school function when rooms are small and oddly shaped, many of them bordered by temporary walls. In the nurse’s office, fully opening the bathroom door cuts the room in half and blocks travel to the rooms beyond. Kreuger says bathrooms are another challenge, where the current ratio of students to toilets is about 100 to three.

The music classroom is currently located behind the cafeteria stage, separated from the noisy lunch crowd by a temporary wall. Teachers seeking social time on their lunch breaks tend to gather in each others’ classrooms rather than in the small teachers’ break room since the original larger break room was turned into an office space for reading and math interventionists.

Many teachers say the layout is also not set up for the optimal flow of traffic. At recess time, students access the rear playground by exiting out the front or side and walking a circuitous route up and around the building, since the more direct route out the back would involve tramping through the school library or through Kim Bryant’s art classroom. And currently, kindergarten classrooms are the farthest from the main lobby area – a long route for the building’s youngest students to memorize.

“Sometimes kids still say, if they need to go down to the nurse’s office, ‘I’d like to walk with a friend, I’m not really sure,’ ” said kindergarten teacher Nicole Leite. “It’s just so long.”

Second-grade classrooms are separated this year, with some upstairs and some downstairs. Kreuger says she would love to be able to group every grade together.

“It’s just nice because that’s another time for professional collaboration, for kids to get together, and for the intervention service people to pick them up,” Kreguer explained. “If you’re on two different floors and a different hallway, that is a lot.”

Teachers also said they would love to see more storage space for classroom materials. The middle school technical education teacher recently installed bookcases in many elementary school classrooms, but many winter coats and backpacks still take up space on the floor, due to a lack of sufficient wall space for cubbies and coat hooks.

Kindergarten teacher Lindsy Levasseur said she stores many classroom materials at her house, while other materials are stored elsewhere in the school building and are rotated in when it’s time to teach certain units, like zoology.

“Each new unit has the teacher’s manual, corresponding student books, the read-aloud, we don’t have the space to store it,” Levasseur said. “If we could keep everything in our room, that would be great.”

Specialist teachers say being able to have a room for students to enter rather than going room to room on a rolling cart makes a huge difference in their teaching ability. Bryant, who is in one of the largest rooms this year, said she’s hoping for a building with enough space that she doesn’t lose her space.

“As someone that’s been on a cart many different times in schools, it’s hard to bring that whole experience to a student, you just can’t set up that same experience for them as you can in the classroom,” Bryant said. “I’m very lucky to be able to have them in the classroom. It’s more that we have room for everyone so that we can keep this wonderful space.”

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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