On Wednesday, South Sound’s newest school, the $20 million, nearly 66,000-square-foot Olympia Regional Learning Academy, opened its doors for classes.
“It’s amazing — absolutely amazing,” said parent Kim Johnson of Lacey. “It’s such a well-used space. Well-planned.”
The two-story gray, earth-toned building was designed as a “net-zero” facility, which means it can draw less energy from the grid than it produces onsite. It has a geothermal heating and cooling system, about 18 skylights, rain gardens that collect and filter storm run-off, and a rooftop that can eventually hold photovoltaic panels to generate solar electricity.
Built by Forma Construction, the school is on target to be the most energy efficient school ever built in the state, according to contractor Drew Phillips.
But the excitement on opening day was about all of the amenities that will make ORLA a true school: 27 classrooms, state-of-the-art science and technology labs, new playground equipment and a commons area that doubles as a cafeteria and a performing arts center.
“It’s inspiring,” said 11th-grader Trenton Anderson, 17.
Founded in November 2006, ORLA is the fastest growing school in the Olympia School District. It is divided into three programs: hConnect, which provides resources, classes and support for home-school families; iConnect, an online school for grades 6-12, and ORLA Montessori, which serves children in preschool to sixth grade. It currently serves about 500 students, but the new school was built for 600 students.
ORLA began in Saint John’s Church with 30 students. More recently, it operated out of the former John Rogers Elementary School in Olympia.
Last week, the school’s families helped pack up classrooms in the old building, and they returned Tuesday to unpack during the School District’s mid-winter break, said ORLA administrator Joy Walton Kawasaki.
“The building feels like it fits ORLA and all of the programs we have,” she said.
Construction crews are expected to remain at the new school for about another month to finish punch-list items, according to Kurt Cross, the School District’s project manager.
ORLA will host a grand opening and community celebration from 4 to 6 p.m. May 18, and community members are invited to stop by a take a tour.
“We are so fortunate that the community approved the bond that built this,” Walton Kawasaki said. “We are so fortunate that they always support schools.”