By Emily Williams
Hundreds of parents and students gathered Sept. 30 at what will become Vestavia Hills Elementary Dolly Ridge for the school’s grand opening – a year early.
The building now is home to Jefferson County’s Gresham Elementary School. After renovations, it will open as a Vestavia Hills elementary school in August 2019.
During last month’s introductory event, parents and kids toured the school’s classrooms, fine arts spaces, cafeteria and gym and saw renderings of upcoming construction and renovation projects.
Dolly Ridge Principal Ty Arendall and Assistant Principal Lorie Belski were on hand to welcome families, district staff and the school’s inaugural PTO officers.
Arendall said turnout for the event was good, and 200 Dolly Ridge bumper stickers were doled out before the supply ran out.
“People were especially impressed with the large and up-to-date classrooms,” Arendall said. “Gresham was built as a middle school but it was converted to an elementary school, so it has a lot of useful common areas, features and spaces that most schools do not have.”
Arendall, current Liberty Park Elementary principal, was hired as principal of the new school in January and has been splitting his time serving as principal and helping prepare the new school.
When Vestavia Hills acquired the 27-acre facility, it was noted that the school had been well kept. It was completely renovated in 2008.
New construction will include updating the exterior of the building, making the carpool and parking areas more efficient and building a 12-classroom addition.
“I have been very energized by the planning process,” Arendall said. “Establishing a new Vestavia Hills school is very exciting. We want to ‘build it strong’ so that the good work we do and the culture of excellence we create lasts for many, many years.”
According to Arendall, the main goal now is to get everything ready for the first day kids arrive, in August.
“There are many things that have to be done and many decisions that we will make before the school year begins. These things are all important – big and small,” Arendall said. “Each of the items needs to contribute to the overall mission of the school.”
One of the big goals recently was to establish the school’s parent teacher organization board. PTO President Ginny Prier and Treasurer Amber Boylan have been working with a committee to establish the organization’s bylaws.
“Outstanding PTO and community support will be really important through the transition and the year ahead,” Arendall said.
Next on the list for Arendall is hiring the school’s staff and creating a culture with common beliefs, mission, vision and values for Dolly Ridge.
“Obviously, because the teachers and staff all work in Vestavia Hills, we will share some common expectations and experiences. But we will also bring unique experiences and ideas from our time in different VHCS schools,” Arendall said.
Though Dolly Ridge will be part of the Vestavia Hills school system, it’s important to create a unique school culture, he said.
“With such an incredible community behind it, it has amazing potential and can truly be anything we are willing to make it to be,” he said.