For Bartow County School Board member Anna Sullivan, the 115,000-square-foot building at 118 North Franklin St. in Adairsville isn't just a new schoolhouse.
"This piece of land and this beautiful building represents so much more than bricks and glass and pavement and grass in this community," said the board's District 5 representative. "This represents a new day in education for our community, but it also represents a very special homecoming. This is the site where, almost continuously, generations of our community have been educated for almost 100 years."
Construction on the $18.9 million facility began in late 2016 and wrapped up in July. Bartow County School System (BCSS) Director of Maintenance and Construction Pankaj Daiya said the new building is about 66 percent larger than the elementary school at 122 King St., which opened close to four decades ago.
"The school has been built for 900 students," he said. "It's about 115,000 square feet ... it has 57 classrooms."
That includes spaces dedicated to arts, music, technology and physical education in addition to the "regular" pre-K-to-fifth grade classrooms.
"It's been a lot of conversation and a lot of planning and I can tell you just from personal experience as we've come down the homestretch here and put the final touches on not only the building, but the surrounding property and land, the mayor and the city have been nothing but tremendously helpful," said BCSS Superintendent Dr. Phillip Page.
Among those attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony held Monday were Adairsville Mayor Kenneth Carson, Chief of Police Mike Jones and U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, a Republican representing Georgia's 11th congressional district. Other members of the local school board were in attendance, as well as a few former AES principals including Terry Drew and Susan Remillard.
Adairsville Elementary's current principal, Melissa Zarefoss, marked the occasion with a brief speech prior to the formal ribbon-cutting celebration.
"We promise to continue to educate your children to the best of our ability," she said. "We said 'we have a new home, but we still have the same foundation for learning.' We're going to continue to excel in all of our instruction, to give your students the most innovative technology that's available and to make this home when they walk in the front door, the place that they know they are loved, cared for and that they're learning they can learn as much as they can."
The move "up the hill" doesn't change the core community of Adairsville Elementary, Sullivan said. It still remains the domain of football dads "who bleed green" and "not just any moms, but Tiger moms."
"This is the place where we draw the line in the red clay to protect what belongs to our children," she said. "Cross it and you've got trouble, but erase it with compassion and caring and you are welcome as a Tiger forever."
Wednesday morning marks the first day of classes at the new elementary school. Sullivan said that although it is a place of learning for north Bartow's youth, it's also going to be a place where all of Adairsville learns what it means to truly be a community.
"It's where we learned our lessons, in more ways than one," she said. "And this ground has been saturated by tears of sorrow and joy. This place is a place of dreams, not just our own, but the ones that we share with our friends and family for our children and our grandchildren."
Page concluded his remarks by thanking the staff and faculty of Adairsville Elementary, as well as the students who will soon be walking down the halls of Bartow's newest educational investment.
"Without you, we wouldn't be doing this," he said. "So thank ya'll. We're glad you're here."
Sullivan, who said she recently spent some time engrossed in old AES yearbooks, wrapped up her address with similar sentiments.
"This is far more than a school, this is our community," she said. "And that's why it gives me such pleasure today, on behalf of the Bartow County Board of Education, to welcome you to this new school, to this bright future for our community — welcome home."