New elementary school set to open in 2024


 Two years ago, the plot of land north of the high school service drive was a blueberry field. Around one year ago, a lone structure highlighted the cleared property. Now, the same land draws the attention of all who pass by with its towering bleachers and lights.

  West Ottawa Public Schools’ (WOPS) 2019 Bond allowed for construction to begin on a new athletic complex and a performing arts center. Both were highly anticipated projects, and the progress on the high school campus is quite striking. Additionally, a third major addition will break ground shortly. While few people know the details of this project, it is equally as important to the district. 

   Brian Field knows the third component to this bond better than anyone. As Associate Superintendent of Student Services and K-5 Instruction, Field works closely with the elementary schools in the district and will oversee a lot of this new project. “A new elementary school will be the last construction project happening out of our 2019 Bond. The order has been the stadium first, which will be ready in fall of 2022, and then the PAC will be ready the next fall (2023). The new elementary school will be open in 2024,” Field said.

   With each bond proposal, employees like Field in the district central office perform a facility needs survey. West Ottawa’s staff works alongside architects to prioritize needs within the district. A location for the new elementary school came out of these conversations. 

   The school will be located on the east end of the district and will provide families living east of US-31 easier access to WOPS. “There are several students that live within our district but attend Zeeland Public Schools,” Field said. The strategic location aims to better serve the families on the border between West Ottawa and Zeeland. The hope is to sway some of the families who might otherwise choose Zeeland. 

   Riley Farms, the working name for the expansion school, incorporates the school’s location (near Riley Street and Riley Ridge Neighborhood) and geographical background of the land that will be used. As former farmland, a creek and other unique characteristics give the opportunity for enriching education to occur outside of the four walls of the classroom. “There will be lots of cool outdoor learning areas because [the school] is on former farmland. We really wanted to build a design with the building that can incorporate the outdoor elements with the indoor elements,” Field said. The idea is for classes to seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor learning to provide students a unique elementary learning experience. 

   Many studies show that spending time outdoors can help students relieve stress and stay more focused throughout the school day. Realistically, spending the entire school day outside is impossible (especially with Michigan winters) but other studies prove that even looking at nature can benefit students. With this in mind, architectural plans for Riley Farms include floor to ceiling windows in the corridors between different hallways. In addition, classes will have access to outdoor courtyards. Turf will be used to make maintaining the spaces easier and ultimately give more classes greater access to being outdoors. 

   Extended learning spaces will also be in each wing of the building. Field recognizes the value of these areas, “They provide a place for groups to work or classes to combine students together.” Flexible furniture will likely be in these rooms allowing for learning to take place outside of the traditional manner: students in desks with a teacher at the front. “We are really trying to look at what our best instructional practice is and how we can create a building to support that,” Field said. 

   Field and the many others working on this project have been intentional with planning in hopes to create another outstanding school in the district. “Our central office administrators are involved as well as our school principals and teacher groups that are giving input. We have gone through this planning phase that starts off at a real high level and then you get down to what we want to have in the classroom. Then we talk with teachers so we have input from the people that will actually be in the spaces,” Field said.

   Existing staff at WOPS will make up the majority of personnel at Riley Farms. “With the redistricting we will be spreading out our students and staff, which is a process that our Central Office Team will engage in planning with our Administrative Team,” Field said. Redistricting will require a look at the current boundary areas on the district map and the lines will be shifted in order to account for the new school but, “The obvious goal for everything is to have the least amount of change,” Field said. 

   There are some rumors of the new school being Spanish Immersion focused, a program held at Lakeshore Elementary, but this is actually not true. “We will be expanding our Spanish Immersion program to include more Spanish, which some may have heard about, however, we are in the process of meeting with several focus groups planning for our elementary redistricting and have not made any determinations as to programming,” Field said. 

   The plans for Riley Farms will continue to evolve through the conversations Field and his team have. Construction is set to begin in the spring of 2023 with a goal to be open for the fall of 2024. 

   The plot of land that is now a barren field will soon become a beautiful place to learn.