WEST ORANGE, NJ — Administrators of Kelly Elementary School and Soyka Smith Design Studios presented a design plan for renovations to the school’s library media center at the April 16 meeting of the West Orange Board of Education. The renovations will transform the current library into a space-themed learning center during the course of the summer. The renovations are the result of an anonymous $250,000 donation from a former student of the then-named Pleasantdale Elementary School in honor of a retired teacher who made a big influence on his life.
According to Principal Joanne Pollara, the donor is a friend of West Orange native and astronaut Mark Kelly, for whom, along with his twin brother and fellow astronaut, Scott, Kelly Elementary School is named. The donor was at the school’s renaming ceremony in 2016 and was impressed with the school.
“He was very impressed with that event and has kept in contact with me since then,” Pollara said at the meeting. “He wishes to donate … in honor of a former teacher that he had and former colleague of mine who he felt was instrumental in helping him to become a reader, which is why he wants to invest the money in the library media center.”
Pollara said the goal of the project is to create a space where all Kelly students and teachers can learn and explore, which is one of the reasons why the library will be NASA- and space-themed — in addition to honoring the school’s alumni space explorers.
The library is being designed by Soyka Smith Design Studios, which also designed the library media center at West Orange High School. Ingrid Narvaez, a senior project manager at the company, was at the BOE meeting to present the plan to the board.
“We’re going to create a spaceship and NASA-type environment that always excites kids and makes us think about what is beyond our own environment,” Narvaez said at the meeting.
The space theme will carry over to the names of the different workspaces in the library, with the front desk and teacher area designated as “Ground Control.” A space for the older students will be called “Endeavor,” after the space shuttle, and other areas of the media center will be called “The Discovery Capsule,” “The Technology Capsule” and the “Exploration Module.”
Narvaez said that there will be butcher block tables and chairs, with stools that easily move around. Much of the furniture is able to be moved around and is ideal for students who need to fidget. According to Pollara, this is practical for the many special-education students who attend Kelly. The bookshelves will have wheels on them, making them easy to move as well.
“By making the bookcases mobile, you can move them out of the way for all different types of events,” Narvaez said, adding that unlike the WOHS library, the Kelly media center does not have a lot of open floor space.
The walls will also be painted in NASA colors and will have a star chart covering, allowing students to see the stars and constellations. In addition, there will also be a Lego wall and whiteboards hung for interactive learning. An image of a rocket ship emblazoned with the school’s own logo will be painted on the side of a closet in the library.
“We’ve rethought this space shuttle to possibly use the logo that the school has, which is a rocket with the two faces of the Kelly brothers in it,” Narvaez said. “So we’ve been tinkering with that idea.”
Construction for the new library design will take approximately 12 weeks. The work will be done during the summer while school is out of session. There will be no structural changes made to the room.
The BOE members were all excited about the plan, with Irv Schwarzbaum and Vice President Mark Robertson saying they can’t wait to see the end results. Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Rutzky said the renovations are a good opportunity for everyone at Kelly.
“This is a tremendous opportunity,” he said at the meeting. “The renaming of the school was very special, but to get a $250,000 donation and to be able to make this state of the art and have all of the students going through Kelly be a part of this, and for the teachers to have this wonderful environment to teach in, is just really fantastic.”