Jennifer Hooton skipped into what was J.P. Ryon Elementary School on Monday to take one last look at what had been her third-grade classroom.
With her grandparents in tow, she roamed freely through the hallways of the nearly deserted building. Their first stop was Room 13, where Jennifer had started the school year in August. "This is where I sat," she told her grandparents as she jumped on a bare portion of the floor near the front door.
Next was the physical education room, now filled with stacked chairs instead of athletic gear. Then it was the portrait of James Percival Ryon, the school's namesake, which now sits atop several boxes waiting to be removed from the building.
"I don't quite understand what they're doing," said Janice Hooton, Jennifer's grandmother.
What they're doing is transforming the building, the latest school facility in Charles County to undergo a complete make-over.
This week, students moved into what will be J.P. Ryon Elementary for at least the next 18 months--a self-contained relocatable complex, complete with hallways, a lobby and classrooms wired for computers--while the main building undergoes a $7.7 million renovation and expansion that will increase its capacity from 414 students to 704.
The temporary school was constructed with 32 relocatable classrooms that were transported from Indiana and bolted together on the school grounds.
Relocatables are nothing new to Charles County schools. As enrollments have grown, the school system has expanded buildings and used relocatables to accommodate students temporarily. In many cases, grade levels have taken turns using relocatables. In other cases, students have been moved to other schools.
But this time, school officials decided to keep the entire student body together and essentially build a new temporary school with a type of relocatable the county has not used before--one with hallways that can be connected to each other. "Like Legos, you can bolt them together," said Ed Scott, senior project manager for Charles County schools. The temporary school cost about $1.5 million to set up, he said.
"We wanted the Ryon community to stay together to keep an identity," said Ronald Ovens, principal of J.P. Ryon.
Teachers, students and administrators were trying to make the best of their "trailer park" school this week. For example, partitions were added to one room to create a space for the principal, assistant principal and a welcome counter. Susan Weight, the school librarian, said she trimmed her book collection from 10,000 books to about 4,000, and bought more paperbacks, to fit into smaller quarters.
Teachers spent the weekend setting up their new--and, in most cases, smaller classrooms--exactly as they had looked in the main building.
Some were overwhelmed by the magnitude of moving an entire school.
"If they gave us a few more days, we'd be ready," said Kim Miller, a second-grade teacher.
Meanwhile, Monique Howe-Towsend, a first-grade teacher, said she was becoming a pro at moving. Her last assignment was at J.C. Parks Elementary in Indian Head, where students also had to move around during construction.
The end product is worth the trouble, she said. "I know what Ryon is going to look like. It's going to be beautiful."
For now, the students and teachers will have to do without a few essentials--such as a gymnasium and a cafeteria. Students will have their physical education classes outdoors. When the weather prevents that, they'll settle for stretching by their desks, watching instructional videos and learning more about nutrition and exercise.
Their lunches will be cooked at nearby John Hanson Middle School and served to them in their classrooms.
Those arrangements didn't seem to bother first-year teacher Marion Johnson, who said she decided to take a job at J.P. Ryon because of the impending construction.
"When I interviewed, they said we'd have a new building in two years," she said. "You can't beat that."
CAPTION: Jennifer Heimpel, front, and Julie Olsen, both 10, get a ride with school equipment from Britney Richardson, 11.