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New Birchwood Elementary greets Bellingham students

It was the start of a new year and a new building, but plenty of the faces were familiar as students, families and staff reconnected at the newly reopened Birchwood Elementary School on Tuesday, Sept. 2.

Friends reunited with hugs, teachers greeted students with animated waves, and parents took the chance to explore the new school as they walked their kids into class for their first day of school.

The school, located at 3200 Pinewood Ave., had been closed since 2011 as it underwent a $14.6 million rebuild.

The original school, built in 1928, had about 11,700 square feet, with additions in 1951 for gym and classroom space and 2002 for a covered play area. At 43,000 square feet, the new school has room for pre-kindergarten and elementary classes, as well as outdoor learning areas. The original entryway for the school was saved and used to create a stately entrance to the school’s library.

“It feels amazing,” Principal Matthew Whitten said.

Whitten stood at the entrance of the new school Tuesday morning, greeting kids and parents as they streamed in.

“Just what we’re looking at right here, the smiling faces and people excited,” he said. “That’s why we built it, so it’s nice to see it actually happening.”

Only one bus serves the school; the rest of the students live close enough to walk or get rides from parents.

“That’s the beauty of this school being open,” Whitten said. “All these kids were riding buses to Alderwood or Cordata (elementaries), and now they’re walking or riding their bikes. It’s really cool to see. It’s a community feel.”

Simona Gaona walked her first- and second-graders to school from their home on Birchwood Avenue.

“It feels good,” Gaona said of having the school so close by. “They don’t have to go to a different school. It’s just down the road.”

April Barker bought a house in the neighborhood specifically to be near the school, and she held her coffee mug as she walked her kids to their classes.

“It feels great just to have our neighborhood school back,” she said. “It’s just spectacular.”

Her daughter, Opal, a third-grader, said the school was awesome, and she couldn’t wait to play on what she described as the “American Ninja Warrior” playground.

“I like all of it,” she said.

Third-grader Zachariah Lancaster said he has been watching the school come together every time his family would drive past the campus on their way to the grocery store. He was excited the school was finally open, and described it as clean, fun and cool.

“We’ve seen them working on it,” he said.

Third-grader Quinn Dunham, whose mom works at the school as a resource teacher, said she liked all the details that have gone into the school’s design, including the group spaces where students can work outside of classrooms.

“I like it,” she said. “It’s really nice. I like how it’s not all plain.”

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