Families were welcomed into Forest Station Elementary on Tuesday by excited staff, school board members and a curious live owl.
Omaha Public Schools hosted its third grand-opening ceremony of the summer for Forest Station, which is one of four new schools opening this month in the district.
The three-floor facility features bright colors, open spaces and a name dedicated to its proximity to Fontenelle Forest and trains. The ceremony included the presentation of Orion, a live owl from Fontenelle Forest’s raptor refuge to represent the school’s mascot, the Owls.
Shelly Burghardt, Forest Station’s principal, said she didn’t know if she could put into words her excitement about leading a new school. She was previously the principal at Hartman Elementary School.
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“I’ve never had the experience of being at the beginning of something. So there’s lots of ways it’s like a book being written, and I’m just that first chapter,” Burghardt said. “Right now, the enthusiasm in the building is overwhelming.”
Burghardt said Forest Station will welcome about 425 students ranging from early childhood to fifth grade when doors open in two weeks, but it can hold around 600. The school currently has 55 employees total, but Burghardt said officials are “hiring daily.”
Students will come from Chandler View Elementary and Gomez Heritage Elementary. Forest Station is located in Bellevue at 1010 Childs Road West.
Splashes of green, white and tan can be seen throughout the building to represent Forest Station’s official colors. Classrooms are filled with bright orange, green and blue, along with modern furniture and technology.
“It is built for our students encompassing color and flexible learning spaces,” said Charles Wakefield, chief operations officer for OPS. “Forest Station is also built for our staff, incorporating collaborative planning and teaching spaces so they can meet the needs of all students.”
Officials said some of these spaces include an intervention room that students can calm down in. It’s attached to a small sensory room, which is adorned with glowing dimmed lighting, a swing, toys and audio to help students who are neurodivergent or have sensory needs to take a break from class.
Burghardt said some of her favorite parts of the school include the open and collaborative spaces that allow students to see others while they are learning. Tables are set in alcoves around the building and different lobby-like spaces are attached to hallways for easy access.
“They allow us to take learning outside of the classroom,” Burghardt said. “We’ve known for a long time that the business industry is changing, and the way that the workplace looks now is different. It’s time for our classrooms to reflect that.”
Sergio Jaden Avila will be coming from Chandler Elementary to be a fifth grader at Forest Station. He said he likes his new building already because of the multiple floors, the increased size and its owl mascot.
Jaden Avila said he’s planning on walking his little sister, Ismerai Martinez, to her kindergarten class every morning before he starts school.
“I can’t wait to go to kindergarten. I’m excited to get new friends,” she said.
Burghardt said she’s proud of the district for getting the $21.3 million building constructed in time for the 2022-23 school year, even with the pandemic, supply chain shortages and other issues.
OPS began construction on the 80,000-square-foot facility in 2019 after the voters approved a $409.9 million bond measure in 2018. The bond issue also includes construction, capital improvements and renovations to 25 existing schools around the district.
The last school to open this year will be Pine Elementary, located at 10th and Pine Streets in southeast Omaha. Its grand-opening ceremony will be at 2 p.m. on Thursday.