A new elementary school that will welcome around 600 inaugural Wasco students on Aug. 12 opened its doors Tuesday with a ribbon cutting ceremony. 

James A. Forrest Elementary School, located at 401 N. Griffith Ave., is a transitional kindergarten to fifth grade school in the Wasco Union Elementary School District that is designed to hold 750 students. About 30 teachers will be on site.

It is named after a previous superintendent, principal of three different schools and veteran, said Superintendent Kelly Richers. Pam Bianchi, assistant superintendent of instructional services at Panama-Buena Vista Union School District and Forrest's daughter, attended the ceremony.

Richers said all of the students who live north of Route 46 can now walk to school with the addition of Forrest Elementary.

"Route 46 has been so dangerous," he said. "Semi-trucks the size of large monsters come through there every five seconds right through the middle of town."

Forrest Elementary sits on 15 1/2 acres and includes: a multipurpose cafeteria with a stage, shade canopies everywhere a student has to go, artificial turf to save on water, digital Touchboards instead of standard white or black boards, iPads for every student, 34 classrooms and three playgrounds with different facilities.

The total cost was $26 million and construction took 13 months. 

In addition, Richers said the district converted Palm Avenue Elementary School to Palm Avenue Middle School. A new gym was built, dedicated to Richard K. Reding, who has been teaching physical education for 35 years.

Every student who went to elementary school went through Thomas Jefferson Middle School. With almost 800 students attending, there was no longer enough room available, so Richers said the district decided to convert an existing school into a middle by building a gym and enlarging the main office.

Now two elementary schools will feed into one middle school, while two other elementary schools will feed into the other middle school.

The two projects were accompanied by a redistricting process that took place last year. 

"The whole objective is for us to set up a 10 to 15 year plan so we don't have to make any big changes," Richers said. "By doing things this way that's what we accomplished."

"I'm very pleased that such a long, complicated plan is actually coming to completion on time. If we said we were going to finish the school this year, we had to have had the reboundary finished. If they weren't completed, we would have to do the reboundary next year. The conversion of the middle school, completion of the elementary school and reboundary came together," Richers added.

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