PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The first day back from the holiday break was also the first day at the brand-new Thomas M. Peirce Elementary School in North Philadelphia.
Almost 200 students, in pre-kindergarten through 5th grade, arrived for their first day of learning inside the new building on Wednesday.
The building, which the school district said cost about $44 million, is the first public elementary school built in North Philadelphia in more than seven decades.
"I graduated from this school in 1969, and it's so wonderful to see these children have a building like this." Terry Rembert, the grandparent of a current T.M. Peirce student, said.
The old T.M. Peirce, which was built in 1909, was shut down about four years ago.
At the time, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers identified asbestos in the building.
"We have an environmental scientist, who works for our health and welfare fund, who went in to examine the facility and found that it was just totally unsafe and unacceptable," Jerry Jordan, the president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said.
Jordan said after warning the school district about the asbestos, the decision was eventually made to relocate students and staff in order to reconstruct the school.
"This is not just from fighting in Philadelphia. This is fighting in Harrisburg, fighting in Washington," Jennifer Ballard, a digital literacy teacher at the school, said on Wednesday. "Taking pictures that were taken by union members. All of those things all came together to what we have here, which is awesome."
"Who wouldn't want to come in here and learn? This is going to be a new era for Philadelphia and a new era for education here," Ballard added.
In December, the district held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the 77,000-square-foot facility. According to the district, it is the fourth newly constructed school in the city since 2021.
Principal Anthony Gordon said, "The community and children were involved in every step of the process. The building that we were in, our original building, was over a hundred years old. It was very outdated and antiquated. To come into a 21st century space is exciting."
The district said the school was designed for an LEED Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
"If you go into these classrooms, they have fresh air systems, great lighting. The furniture is flexible so it can be moved around. It helps to facilitate the learning style of our students," Philadelphia Superintendent Tony Watlington said.
Watlington added, "We're just excited to have them return back to a brand new, state-of-the-art learning facility. The first new school built in 70 years in North Philadelphia, and our students certainly deserve it."
The superintendent said that while there are currently only about 200 students enrolled in T.M. Peirce, the school is capable of serving up to 500 students. He said he is hopeful parents in the neighborhood will see the new facility and consider it as an option for their child.