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West Side Elementary set to open

By Amber Marra

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - When the roughly 375 students walk into the brand new West Side Elementary, they might be shocked by their new colorful surroundings.

The floors are spotted with a rainbow of tiles throughout the building and a colorful mosaic adorns the main foyer.

But the decor can't beat the technology that touches every aspect of the school. The lighting, security, HVAC, fire alarms, critical monitoring and lockdown systems all work together. But each one also operates independently of the others.

That means if one system becomes unresponsive, the rest can continue to operate normally.

"This is the first totally integrated smart building in the state," said Mike Martin, the senior vice president of Mason and Barry's security division, which has contracted with the Kanawha County school system for three years.

The school is set for a grand opening on Tuesday, so Jeff Allred and his crews are busy adding the final touches.

Allred, the clerk of the works and site manager from RCA Inc., gave the Daily Mail a tour of the state-of-the-art building Thursday. He has overseen its construction, which has been delayed several times due to weather and changes to architectural plans.

Now he will see it come to fruition as students from Glenwood and Chandler elementaries vacate their aging schools and transfer to the new $14 million, 60,000-square-foot building.

Chandler and Glenwood "are just outdated, old and outdated. They don't have near the technology or near the security of this building," Allred said.

School board members recently voted to close Glenwood and Chandler, and they are searching for alternative uses for both buildings. Glenwood is being considered for possible residential restructuring and Chandler is on the list of potential new sites for the East Academy Alternative School, which is currently housed at Capital High.

The school's integrated systems include motion sensors in all classrooms that control when the lights are on, which helps cut back on energy costs by turning off all lights and adjusting the temperature settings when the system recognizes everyone has left for the day.

The motion sensors also control humidity and monitor carbon dioxide levels.

The motion sensors also act as a security measure. They can trigger the school's security system if they detect an intruder after hours.

Unwanted characters will also find it difficult to get into the school during the day. The secretary in the main office will be able to see anyone trying to get into the school via a camera at each entrance.

The security system will allow the secretary to grant visitors access by buzzing them in or having them swipe a driver's license in a scanner at the door. The visitor's information is then checked through the sex offender database and county database for what Martin calls "undesirables," like a parent who has been placed under a restraining order.

"You don't want to deal with those issues standing in the office. This takes the problem outside," Martin said.

All of the people who have their licenses scanned also are kept on record with the school.

"It's not being invasive, it's being safe," Martin said.

Additionally, all classroom doors can be locked from the inside with a key. Should an emergency occur in the hallway, teachers and students can stay inside their rooms.

"The whole point is not to have to come in and expose yourself to whoever's out here," Allred said.

The connected systems also monitor energy use and how much has been saved "down to the last kilowatt," Martin said.

The new school isn't all about keeping the bad guys out; it's also about maintaining a positive learning environment.

Desk and chairs are ready for students and learning materials already are arranged in the preschool and kindergarten area. At the end of this hallway is the library and computer lab, which will adjoin an outdoor classroom.

Preschoolers will have their own fenced-in play area, which is encircled by the school like a courtyard. Playgrounds for the older children and a paved walking path will also be there.

Perpendicular to the preschool and kindergarten wing is the area for first through third graders. Around the corner is fourth and fifth graders' area.  There are also classrooms for Title I students and those with behavioral problems.

Near the front of the school are the art and music classrooms. The plans for this wing had to be expanded, which caused some initial delay in the school's construction. Despite setbacks, Allred remains impressed.

"This is way above and beyond most elementaries," he said.

The first day of school at West Side Elementary will be July 8. With plans for a second new elementary school near Edgewood Country Club in the works, Martin said there is even more to look forward to.

He hopes that school will be certified through Leadership in Energy and Environment Design, or Leed. If so, it would be partially powered with solar and wind energy.

"This one has a lot of new technology," he said of the first school. "But the next one will have tons of technology."

Contact writer Amber Marra at or 304-348-4843.


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