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Opp prepares to open new school

Monday won’t just be the first day of school for students at the new Opp Elementary School, it will also be the first day of school for the building itself.

Opp Superintendent Michael Smithart said the new school fills the community with pride.

“There’s just an excitement in the entire town right now, whether they have kids or not,” he said. “I think that anywhere you go, that’s the big topic of conversation. It’s certainly something this community can be proud of.”

Opp’s citizens agreed on a one-cent sales tax to pay for the new school, which cost about $10 million. Construction began more than a year ago. It replaces the old South Highlands Elementary School building, which is more than 50 years old.

In addition to being a newer and more modern facility, OES is also fully enclosed; SHES’s campus included several separate buildings, and students often had to walk outside to move from classroom to classroom.

“It’s not just a convenience thing, it’s also a safety thing,” said Emily Edgar, assistant superintendent for Opp City Schools. “It was really hard for our students to have to walk outside between classes, especially when the weather was bad. This way, there’s a roof over the entire building.”

Smithart asks for parents to be patient with school administrators as they get used to the new building, and its new traffic flow. The school is located on Bobcat Drive, which connects to the bustling Main Street/ U.S. Hwy. 331.

“There will be signs designating that part of the street as a school zone,” he said. “There will also be a traffic control officer at the intersection of Bobcat Drive and Main Street. As you come in from Main Street, it’s a one way drive and there’s a definite loop that you’ll make, where you come in front of the school and then loop your way back out.

“Please just be patient with us that first day. We anticipate that there may be a problem with traffic at times, but that’s also just a normal thing that you see on any first day at a school.”

Edgar said the construction of the U.S. Hwy. 331 bypass has helped to alleviate some of the traffic.

“It would have been a lot hairier without the bypass and all that extra beach traffic,” she said. “Plus, the city just passed that ordinance that will limit the trucks coming through here, so that will be safer. Of course, you’ve still got a day care and college in the area, so we’re expecting some traffic regardless.

“The one nice thing about it is Main Street’s long, so that gives the traffic a little more room to stretch out. With SHES, Brown Street and Stanley Street were shorter and there were a lot of times when traffic would get backed up.”

Edgar also said the new building is convenient because it allows for more parking than was available at SHES. She thanked the city for helping clear trees and provide landscaping.

“It’s really a beautiful location,” she said. “Now that the city’s cleared out a lot of the trees and poles, you can see the building from Main Street.”

Parents and citizens are welcome to visit the new school at an open house Sunday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

“We’re going to have a brief ceremony in the gym to recognize certain people and thank them for the job they’ve done,” he said. “After that, there will be a ribbon cutting in front of the school. Then we’ll have some tours set up and parents can go meet the teachers and see the classrooms.”