By RACHAEL GRAY
LEOTI — Students and teachers are settling in nicely to the domes that serve as classroom space at Wichita County Elementary School.
This is the second year the two domes have been open at the elementary school, which was formerly the district's middle school.
Dawn McKinney, WCES principal, said the students and teachers are adjusting and enjoy the space.
"Everyone is finally settling in. It looks like we live here now," she said.
There are two domes at the elementary school and a separate dome at Wichita County Junior/Senior High School, which serves as a multi-purpose room used for physical education.
In 2009, voters approved a $4.5 million school bond that turned the former middle school into an elementary school for grades preschool through sixth grade, with an academic dome and a physical education dome attached. A metal building was built to accommodate the vocational agricultural program.
A ribbon-cutting was held in 2010 for the junior/senior high school's dome. The junior/senior high school serves grades seven through 12.
The multipurpose junior/senior high school dome was not included in the bond project because it was built with U.S. Department of Agriculture funds, along with $150,000 of the district's capital outlay money.
More than 10 years ago, Wichita County Economic Development was given a USDA grant called EZ/EC, which stands for Empowerment Zone and Enterprise Community program.
Patty Clark, state director of the USDA, said the EZ/EC funds were given to Wichita County Economic Development to help provide opportunities for growth and revitalization and prevent out-migration.
Other EZ/EC funds were used in Wichita County to improve the county's fairgrounds and to build a dental office.
The elementary school domes were finished in May 2011.
The domes also serve as storm shelters and promote efficiency, McKinney said.
Students and staff are enjoying the new classrooms in the dome, as well as the space of their new home.
"We're adjusting very well. The space is great," she said.
Teachers enjoy having central air and don't have to yell over the window units, McKinney said.
Classrooms in the current facility also have more technology.
"There's more technology in the rooms, including overhead projectors and SMART Boards," she said.
The former middle school building did not have to be brought up to code, but remodeling and adjustments were made, McKinney said.
"It was more cosmetic — the painting and flooring and creating some classrooms out of larger spaces," she said.
The building was built in 1926 and still has the same brown tile floor as it did before.
"People's hearts are in that floor. They decided not to change it," she said, adding the building has a mixture of old and new.
In the classroom and office dome, each classroom has its own unique ceiling. Some dip up and down, some have rounded, curved edges and some create 3D box-like effects.
"The adults noticed it right away. But the students have started looking up, too," she said.
The 2009 vote was the district's fourth attempt to pass a bond issue to replace its aging facilities, including the former R.B.S. Elementary School, parts of which are 80 years old. Before that, the district learned that its insurance wouldn't cover the elementary school because of its deteriorating condition.
When Wichita County voters went to the polls in 2009, more than 75 percent voted in favor of the $4.5 million proposal to upgrade their schools.