Brairwood, Trailwood communities celebrate opening day at brand new, state-of-the-art school buildings

Briarwood sixth grade teacher Jonathan Ferrell leads class in his new room at Briarwood Elementary.
Briarwood sixth grade teacher Jonathan Ferrell leads class in his new room at Briarwood Elementary.

Getting students to class on time after a snowy night is difficult enough. Throw in the excitement of opening up a brand new school and – well, suffice it to say it’s been a busy morning for staff, teachers and administrators at two northeast Johnson County elementary schools.

Both Trailwood Elementary on 95th Street and Briarwood Elementary on 86th Street officially opened their brand new school buildings for class today. Students had the chance to get a sneak peak at the facilities before they were dismissed for break, but Thursday was the first day they got to attend classes.

The openings are the culmination of 16 months of continuous construction work managed by contractor J.E. Dunn. Briarwood students had been attending class at the Broadmoor Technical Center as their former building was demolished and the new building erected. Trailwood student continued to attend classes at their old building while the new facility was built on site. The multi-million dollar projects were financed by the $223 million bond issue approved by district voters in January 2015.

While it’s been a hectic month as construction crews and district staff worked to ready the buildings for today’s opening, Trailwood Principal Greg Lawrence said the excitement among school families has been palpable:

Briarwood Principal Chris Lash called the new facility the community’s “dream school,” and said it provided the setting needed to support their focus on hand-on, experiential learning:

Both schools feature brand new gyms with real hardwood floors. Here’s a look at the new Trailwood gym:


And the new gym at Briarwood:


When word broke in 2015 that the district was considering felling the gym it had built at Briarwood in the mid-2000s as part of the new building construction, several community families objected on the grounds that the Briarwood PTA had raised a significant amount of money to pay for that gym’s wood floor. While the district ultimately decided it would be most efficient to tear down the gym instead of incorporating it into the new building, crews did salvage the center court from the floor. It was repurposed as a stage that sits at the front of the new Briarwood cafeteria:


Both buildings also feature new media centers — formerly called libraries — where students can check out books and other materials. Here’s the Trailwood media center:


And the Briarwood media center:


Among the notable changes from traditional school layout is the incorporation of wide, open hallways that have soft seating areas, tables and group work areas. These spaces serve as gathering points for team projects, or places where specialists can meet and work with individual students. Here’s a look at one of the hallway spaces at Trailwood:


You may also notice that all the classrooms feature furniture that looks considerably different than what you find in traditional classrooms. For seating, most students will use stools that have a wobbly base and no back, which both building principals said tend to keep students more alert and engaged in class. Instead of desks, each classroom features tables that can be easily moved and reconfigured:


Here’s a look at the Briarwood exterior:


And the Trailwood exterior:


Trailwood is still grappling with how the district will handle demolition of the existing building after several parents raised concerns about student exposure to potential toxins. The district will hold a meeting with the contractors Jan. 10 to help inform its decision on that matter.

Construction on the new Crestview Elementary is still under way. Students are expected to be able to move into that building after Spring Break.