Welcome back, teachers

Staff lounge renovated during break

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Staff at Strawberry Park Elementary School may have a hard time forgetting that winter break is over.

On their first day back from a weeklong vacation, teachers, aides and school staff discovered -- many in surprise -- a newly renovated staff lounge furnished with marble countertops, cherrywood cabinets, two new refrigerators, matching designer tables and chairs, padded carpeting and even a trickling, Zen-garden-like fountain.

"It feels like you're in a hotel, not at school," resource specialist Niki Andrew said, sitting down to lunch in the stylish, cafe-like room.

Shannon Lukens, a general contractor and president of the Parent-Teacher Information Com--mittee, coordinated the renovation. She said the "extreme makeover" was needed for a lounge that, by all accounts, was not particularly attractive.

"It was as ugly as could be," Lukens said, describing the old lounge's orange cabinets with black trim, 25-year-old furniture, run-down refrigerators and nonpadded carpeting that was glued to the cement floor. "We completely gutted the place."

Lukens said the decision to spend thousands of PTIC dollars on renovating the lounge had the full support of Principal Mark MacHale, who oversaw a lounge renovation at the school where he previously worked and said it was wonderful for staff morale.

"Teachers need a place to decompress, recharge and feel like they're professionals," Mac-Hale said Monday.

Thanks to significant support from the Steamboat Springs community, staff at Strawberry Park now has such a place.

Lukens said Spiegel & Son of Steamboat painted the walls for free, and local electrician Jeff Coon -- whose wife is a teacher at the school -- worked for free, as well. Abe Walter and Barry Limberg pitched in to improve the school where their kids learn, and Wal-Mart and Ace Hardware donated materials, Lukens said.

The renovations did not come easy. Lukens said that during the "tear-out party" Friday night, volunteers cut through a water line while pulling out a sink. The resulting deluge flooded the lounge, staff workroom and MacHale's office, creating a potentially disastrous situation.

"Finished CSAP tests were sitting on the floor in a puddle of water," MacHale said, referring to the state-mandated standardized tests that third-graders at the school completed two weeks ago. "They didn't get wet -- we were very, very lucky."

So is the staff at Strawberry Park.

"Just the feeling of the carpet when you walk in, " music director Michelle Hess said. "I love it."

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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