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Bel Pre Elementary family past and present bids farewell to school — for now

By Kara Rose | The Gazette,

Brookeville resident Lloyd Andersen was all smiles when he walked into the multipurpose room of Bel Pre Elementary School in Silver Spring.

Andersen, who taught computer skills for 16 years, worked at the school 10 years ago. He returned last Thursday for a farewell tea — complete with soda, snacks and, of course, tea — to say goodbye to the school building, which will undergo a major renovation in the next year and a half.

Bel Pre, which opened in September of 1968, serves 496 students in pre-kindergarten through second grade. Students then are sent about a mile down the road to Strathmore Elementary School for third through fifth grades.

The new building, set to open in August 2014, will be larger, at 103,608 square feet (the current building is 59,031 square feet). It will have two floors, and every classroom will have Promethean boards — high-tech, interactive white boards — and ELMOs — projectors that use cameras. Reading specialist Jokima Joynes Millar said this will allow the school to become “more contemporary.”

Dana Tofig, spokesman for Montgomery County public schools, said the new building will accommodate 587 students, about 200 more than the current building’s capacity. The project’s cost is about $28.8 million, and the school will be built using green technology. The school will have all of the features of an elementary school, Tofig said, including classrooms, an art room, music room, gym, multipurpose room, cafeteria, media center and playing fields.

Among the other schools in the county undergoing construction are Glenallan Elementary in Silver Spring, Weller Road Elementary in Bethesda, Beverly Farms Elementary in Rockville, Bradley Hills Elementary in Bethesda and Herbert Hoover Middle School in Rockville, Tofig said. Those projects are scheduled to be completed by the beginning of next school year. Next year, Candlewood Elementary in Rockville and Rock Creek Forest Elementary in Silver Spring are scheduled to begin construction projects, he said.

Media specialist Valerie Boyd said she is excited for a “fresh new start” at Bel Pre.

Principal Carmen Van Zutphen told the crowd of about 50 former and current students, parents, teachers and staff members that although the school looks beautiful, the infrastructure — including the plumbing, electricity, heating and cooling system and security system — are “becoming antiquated.”

She said the state-of-the-art building with a vegetated roof and a courtyard will help move the school forward.

Andersen said that while he always liked the school, the new technology will greatly help the school’s students and staff — including his daughter, who now teaches second grade at Bel Pre.

“It’s fun to be in a brand-new building with new equipment,” Andersen said.

Brookeville resident Lauren Zarren has been teaching at Bel Pre for seven years. She said that although it’s sad that the building is being torn down, she is excited for new tools to better equip her students.

“It’ll help my students . . . become more associated with technologies, because a lot of these kids have no clue how to use a computer,” Zarren said, noting she is most excited for the student-response technology that allow her to see whether her students understand without calling them out in class.

Eyoab Asrat, 11, of Silver Spring said he attended Bel Pre for kindergarten, first and second grade and now attends Argyle Middle School in Silver Spring. He said being back in the school he called home for three years brought back a lot of good memories.

“I’m kind of sad that they’re going to knock down the school,” Eyoab said. “But I’m excited for the new stuff.”

A number of former students — including some from the early 1990s — said that although they were going to miss the building and the memories they made there, they understand the need to renovate.

Margaret Yates, who served as principal of the school from 1990 to 2001, said the school will remain the great place it has always been.

“It’s not about the bricks and mortar. It’s about the children — it’s always about the children,” said Yates, who said she wanted a brick from the building as a keepsake.

Van Zutphen said she is looking forward to coming back to a two-story building.

“Each of you are the people . . . that make Bel Pre the wonderful place it is. It’s not really a building, it’s the people, and you’re not changing, you’re coming with us,” Van Zutphen said. “Your memories and your legacies truly have made a difference in this school.”

The last day of classes in the building will be Dec. 21 until it reopens in August 2014 for the 2014-15 school year. During the construction, students will be bused to North Lake Center on Bauer Drive in Rockville each day.

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