By Jim Hughes, Fort Rucker Public AffairsJanuary 24, 2020
Fort Rucker leadership and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers representatives hosted 11 spouses of local Soldiers for a tour in and around the elementary school being built on post Jan. 22, and the attendees all graded the facility a solid A+.
The school is scheduled to open this fall, and while construction won't be finished until mid-March, the tour served as a great preview of what Fort Rucker youth and parents can expect this fall, said Jodie Francis, spouse of Maj. Gen. David J. Francis, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general.
"It's beautiful," she said of the school. "Every detail has been thought out. The colors, the lights, the windows, everything is just gorgeous. I felt like I was more at a museum than a school. I think this is going to be an excellent place for our children to go to every day to learn."
While Francis won't have any children attending the school, she said if she did, she'd be "thrilled."
"We're just looking forward to it opening," she added. "I'm so impressed with just the bare bones -- I can't imagine how great it's going to be once everything is in and set for the kids."
Francis' voice joined a chorus of other positive reviews from the spouses in attendance, which was music to the ears of Miranda Griffin, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mobile District South Alabama Office representative leading the tour.
"This was fun -- I'm glad to see everyone has so much interest in this project," she said. "I think the tour really helps them understand what their children will be coming into when it opens. It was fun to see them react to the building."
While construction has experienced hiccups here and there, Griffin said, things are moving along smoothly now towards the fall opening, setting up Fort Rucker youth for a great start to the 2020-21 school year.
"Everywhere the children go, the intention is for them to be learning something -- for it to be interactive for them," she added. "Whether they're at the history wall with the aircraft, the windmill, the kiln, even the playgrounds, the children will be learning from the time they put their feet on the campus until the time they leave."
That attention to detail on the more than 175,000-square foot facility wasn't lost on the parents touring the facility, including Ashleigh Rankin, whose spouse is a warrant officer at Fort Rucker attending flight school and whose daughter will attend the school in the fall.
"It's amazing to see how beautiful it is and how well-thought out it is -- it's crazy because you can tell by just looking at the school and the details they included that they were thinking about our children at Fort Rucker when they built it," Rankin said. "From the Above the Best sign to the helicopter artwork to the light fixtures looking like rotor blades and birds to the playground with the plane -- they're all going to love it."
She said that, as flight school parents, they expect to be at Fort Rucker for just a year or two.
"So, lot of these kids are going to be here for a year and then leave," she said, "I just can't imagine them going anywhere else -- I've never seen a school this beautiful, honestly."
The excitement is already building within the family for the new school year to start, Rankin added.
"We drive by and my daughter gets excited -- she says it's beautiful and she can't wait to get in," she said, adding that the playgrounds and science room have caught her daughter's eye.
As a parent, she said what caught her eye was the certified tornado shelter in the gym, and just the overall look and feel of the facility. "It seems really well thought out the whole way through -- the open classrooms, and the open, light and airy feel of the facility is a million times better than before."
Another parent looking forward to opening day, even though she has no elementary school-aged children, is Melissa Gardner, spouse of Col. Whitney B. Gardner, Fort Rucker garrison commander.
"I've heard so many great things about the school already, but to see it in person, and to see how much time and thought was put into making this so phenomenal is just exciting," she said. "You can hear about it and you can see pictures of it, but to walk through and feel what the students are going to feel when they walk through it for the first time -- it's the real deal. Sometimes you hear something will be great, but this truly lives up to everything that I've heard.
"I can't wait for the kids to see it. I can't wait for the teachers to see it -- I'm really proud that this is at Fort Rucker," she added. "To have this at Fort Rucker and to know that the kids are finally being recognized and rewarded with a beautiful school, and something that is all about them -- the Army really got it right on this one."
Gardner added that she hopes this new school will help put parents at ease when they come to Fort Rucker.
"They can say, 'Hey, this school was built with you in mind -- this is yours,'" she said. "You can take ownership of it, you can be proud of this school. You do not need to be nervous here -- you're with other military friends and family. They deserve it."