KALAMA — Hundreds of students and school staff Friday morning signed a steel beam that will become part of the new Kalama Elementary School.

Ted Jeffery, Emerick Construction project manager, handed out multi-colored permanent markers to classes of elementary and middle school students streaming in and out of the parking lot to add their names to the beam. The beam has been painted white to help signatures stand out.

Emerick Construction crews broke ground on the $35 million school in June. The new school is set to open January 2021 after winter break, according to the Kalama School District.

The signing ceremony helps the students and teachers feel more connected to the project, Jeffery said. The beam signing is also a way for older students who won’t be attending the new school to feel like they’re a part of the building.

Eric Nerison, Kalama superintendent, said crews will begin erecting the steel structure of the school next week. The 29-foot-long signed beam will go up sometime in the next two weeks as part of an entryway on the China Garden Road side of the building.

“I’m excited to see the dream taking shape,” he said. “It’s nice to see the kids look forward to it because we are crunched” for space.

The district is facing overcrowding problems. About 488 students are enrolled in the elementary school this year, and the new school will improve capacity.

Voters approved a $63.4 million bond in February 2018 to finance the new school and make improvements to the high school. It will be Kalama’s first new school in 66 years.

The district and construction team made some adjustments to the project this spring because of high costs, but Nerison said in April none of the planned projects were cut.

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