Principal William Campbell stood outside early Wednesday morning in his suit and hat, waving at cars parading slowly in front of Fair Street School as parents dropped off their children.
“Good morning!” he kept saying, as students rushed past him and into the building. “Welcome to your new school.”
While students were only returning from the two-day fall break, it almost felt like the first day of school, with the new Fair Street building officially open for class.
The “community school” was originally built and named in 1936, housing the county’s black students in all grades. The years and eventual integration brought changes, with the school now serving kindergarten through fifth grade.
As time wore on, the former building wore down.
“Towards the end of our time here, we were scrambling to keep buckets under the leaking roof,” Assistant Principal Kim Davis said. “We had to deal with so many physical challenges that it was hard to focus on instruction.”
The community passed an education special purpose local option sales tax in 2011 that would fund the new building, with construction beginning in January 2012. Originally anticipated to open in December 2013, the new building is two months ahead of schedule.
It’s a relief for school staff and students, who had all been housed at Wood’s Mill Academy while construction took place.
Now, the Fair Street Tigers are home.
Passers-by would have been forgiven if they had mistaken this new beginning at the historic school for a dance party, with Campbell, Davis and other school leaders joining for a choreographed dance to the Katy Perry song “Roar.”
Campbell then ran through a few standard school procedures before instruction officially began, reminding students they need to treat the new building with respect.
“I think that it’s beautiful,” said second-grader Chania Christian. “I like all of it.”
“Beautiful” was a word echoed by both students and adults as they looked around the halls, some for the first time.
“It’s wonderful,” parent Jolicia Wilkins said. “It’s better and bigger. It’s more spaced out, too. It’s not so cramped.”
Marvin Harris agreed.
“I like how they have the kids separated, with kindergarten and first grade on the bottom and the older kids all up top,” he said.
Davis said they focused on the details of the building, trying to make it aesthetically fit with the historic appearance of the surrounding community while offering up-to-date technology.
For many, including Davis, the day wasn’t only historic but also personal.
Not only did she attend Fair Street, her children did as well. She’s spent her entire 27-year career at the school.
“It is very, very special for me,” she said. “I’m just so thrilled to see a building that the entire community’s proud of, (and) that our children are proud of and can take good care of.”