Canton Public Schools officials and members of the community gather for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Canton Elementary School building last week.
Canton Public Schools officials and members of the community gather for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Canton Elementary School building last week.
Canton Public School elementary students and faculty celebrated the school year with the opening of two brand new buildings part of a $33.5 million bond issue passed by Canton voters back in March 2015.

Beverly Luckett with the Canton School District said that these projects include much more than just facelifts, both new schools have the capacity to hold approximately 600 students each.

“The updated facility also helps improve safety, security, and accessibility,’ Luckett said. “Students say they feel inspired to achieve as they prepare to compete globally for 21st Century jobs as the district continues to follow our motto which is: Elevating Minds and Empowering Possibilities.”

She went on to say that both schools will include an interior Physical Education room with a stage and a cafeteria that can open to the P.E. area for large events.

Both schools feature a participatory media center “with a high focus on technology,” computer labs, and support spaces for Special Education, Art, and Music. Both school designs feature “state of the art buildings” situated around a secure courtyard.

The buildings also integrate historical artifacts preserved from the old schools in their layouts to ground them in 50 plus years of tradition represented at each location.

The schools are located at their existing locations. Canton Elementary is located on Academy Street and McNeal is located on Doctor M.L.K. Jr. Drive.

Canton Elementary School was originally built in 1959. The new one-story kindergarten through fifth-grade school will give students an environment that administrators say is more conducive to learning. Improvements were estimated to cost nearly $14 million.

Canton Elementary Principal Shalondia Washington said that the new building is a noticeable improvement over the previous building after the August 25 ribbon-cutting.

“The students of Canton Elementary having this beautiful, clean, safe, spacious technologically enhanced educational facility shows that a community working together as a team can accomplish anything,” Washington said.

McNeal, the older of the two buildings, was badly in need of repair. Built in 1952, the structure was 66 years old. The $33.5 million bond issue made way for the $11.5 million two-story building to breath new life into the student's education track and learning experience.

McNeal Principal Dr. Shannon Whitehead said that the old building had shortcomings in everything from bathrooms to parking but hopes the new building will better serve her students.

“We just want to thank our community and everyone that helped make this dream a reality,” Whitehead said.

McNeal student Zanariah Prophet joined School Board officials and McNeal faculty in cutting the ribbon at their August 21 unveiling of the building. She said she might put the opening of the new school ahead of her birthday.

“This has definitely got to be the best day of my life,” Prophet said. “This is definitely going to help us grow and help us reach our goals. We are going to go far.”

Also present for the ribbon cutting was one of McNeal’s many former students and a CPSD Alumna, School Board Attorney Lisa Ross. Luckett said Ross donated $1,500 to the school’s activity fund during the ceremony to help inspire the children and their families.

Luckett said that the two shiny new buildings are only the most obvious improvements included in the bond issue that was originally pushed by then-Superintendent Ike Haynes and passed in March 2015 by a margin well over 60 percent with support from then-Mayor Arnel Bolden and the Board of Alderman. The bond issue was not without it's detractors who were skeptical that an increase in taxes was the medicine the school system needed to address it's issues.

“The passage of a 33.5M bond issue afforded two new K-5 elementary schools, a new 9th Grade Academy, a 1:1 laptop initiative, and much more,” Luckett said.

Canton Elementary School student Lyniah Henderson, spoke at the ribbon-cutting for her new school.

“A good education starts with young people learning the basics of reading, writing, and math at elementary school,” Henderson said. “This year, we have the opportunity to do this in a brand new school with colorful hallways, matching desks, an outdoor courtyard, and new restrooms…just to name a few. I am so happy that we have a  new and improved Canton Elementary School.”

She ended by saying “this is our winning season,” which has become a catchphrase district-wide as they go into the 2018-2019 school year.