Near the front entrance of Piney Branch Elementary School, artist Stace Ridgeway held a cup of paint as he meticulously added color to the letters on one of the five murals he and his father were completing.
Down the hall, kindergarten teacher Linda Meyers arranged single, magnetic alphabet letters to her word wall as maintenance crews scrambled in and out of classrooms putting the finishing touches on Prince William County’s newest school.
Set to open Tuesday, Piney Branch is one of three schools welcoming students, teachers and staff for the first time. In June, school officials held ribbon cuttings for T. Clay Wood Elementary School and Patriot High School, both in Brentsville. Next year in Haymarket, school officials plan to open Ronald Wilson Reagan Middle School and replace PACE West.
“I’ve been here every day since Monday, and I’m so excited,” Meyers said last Thursday. “It’s such an exciting thing to have a new school, a new mascot, new teachers — new everything.”
County school officials expect about 81,000 students this year, with about 850 at Piney Branch.
“We’re a growing school division, and it’s always exciting to open new schools,” Prince William County Schools spokeswoman Irene Cromer said, adding that the county has the second largest school system in the state. “We are just meeting the needs of a growing county.”
The 105,000-square-foot school is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified and meets energy efficient standards, school officials said. The floor, for example, is made of recycled material that is mold and mildew resistant. Piney is the first of the county’s new schools to have this product installed.
Classrooms also are equipped with Promethean interactive whiteboards, which replaces the old-fashioned chalkboards and engages students through images, video and audio, according to the Promethean Web site.
The bathrooms are state-of-the art as well: The doors lock automatically, school officials said, although teachers can override the lock to ensure nobody gets trapped.
School officials budgeted about $16 million for the school off Linton Hall Road. It was designed by Moseley Architects. The building has lots of windows, which brings in natural light, and was built by E.E. Reed Construction, school officials said.
The facility also includes special classrooms for students with autism or learning disabilities, a cafeteria, a media center and a story room that holds about 65 students.
“It’s a dream,” Piney Branch librarian Johnna Tselides said about the new school. “The windows and light — it changes everything. It’s great that Prince William is committed to having schools with natural light.”
Tselides said that she also loves the murals, calling them “out of this world.”
The murals were done by Mural Mural on the Wall — a father and son team from Atlanta. Stace Ridgeway and Stacy Ridgeway painted everything from Egyptian pyramids to the characters from Dr. Seuss. The murals are made from oil-based paint so they won’t fade, crack or peel, Stace Ridgeway said, noting they are “kid resistant.” The father and son have completed murals at schools nationwide, including several other Prince William schools, officials said.
Meyers, who is one of more than 60 staff members at the school, said she has been teaching for 25 years and the fun “never wears off.” Being a part of a new school is exciting, she said, but there are also challenges that lie ahead while Principal Kirsten Fisher works to blend a staff that comes from different schools.
“With a new school, there are no procedures in place, so we have to be on our game,” Meyers said. “How are we going to do lunch? How are we going to dismiss?”
Teachers spent this week setting up their classrooms and in meetings to ensure details such as lunch schedules were worked out before the first day.
“Our principal is phenomenal,” Meyers said. “She has rallied.”
The principal told staff members, “ ‘We’re going to do this together. No one’s going to be alone,’ ” Meyers said. “It gets you excited about taking ownership of” something new.