Seven-year-olds Shaun Mason and Jataun Pope sat on the floor of their second-grade classroom Thursday, playing with a set of small wooden blocks.
It was their first day of school at the Timothy L. Johnson Academy, and both said they were happy to be back in the classroom.
"I wasn't sure if I was going to like my teacher," Jataun said. "But she ended up being nice and pretty."
Like most students heading back to school, Shaun and Jataun had a lot to get used to – new teachers and new classmates and new rules. But on top of that, they also had a new building to navigate.
Timothy L. Johnson opened its doors in a new location Thursday, setting up shop in a former elementary school still owned by East Allen County Schools. The charter school is housing about 300 students in kindergarten through eighth grade in the former Village Elementary at 4625 Werling Drive.
The school was closed at the end of the 2010-11 school year and is now also home to East Allen's alternative education program.
Johnson Academy school leader Steve Bollier said he was thrilled to be in the new location, which brings all the school's students together in about 50,000 square feet of space – or two of the school's three wings.
"It's going to be wonderful," he said. "Everything has started out very smoothly."
Previously, students at Timothy L. Johnson went to school in separate buildings: Elementary students attended school at Come As You Are Community Church on South Anthony Boulevard, and the school's middle school students attended classes at the former St. John Lutheran School downtown.
But this summer, EACS board members agreed to lease about 60 percent of the district's former elementary school to Timothy L. Johnson for $48,000 a year. If the district decides to sell the school, the charter school will have the first option to buy the property.
Bollier said the new school offers various perks, including 17 acres of land for cross country and other activities, a larger playground and a nice gym.
Elementary students didn't have a gym at their previous location, and they had to be bused to the downtown school for physical education.
He also said the building, first built in 1952 and renovated in 1992, had in-class lockers and bathrooms that helped keep kids out of the hallways, where a lot of behavioral problems originate.
"I've been in education a long time, and I've never seen anything designed this nicely," Bollier said.
Timothy L. Johnson added an eighth grade last fall, which meant it needed to find more space than it had at Come As You Are. After looking at dozens of properties, the academy reached a one-year agreement with St. John Lutheran Church to expand to St. John Lutheran School, which closed in 2010 as a result of financial constraints.
Last year it kept students at both facilities. Originally, Timothy L. Johnson planned to keep some of its students in the St. John location this year. Instead, Timothy L. Johnson is leasing the school out to the Smith Academy for Excellence.
At a board meeting Thursday, Smith Academy officials said they were planning to pay $7,300 a month for the facility, including custodial work.
Bollier said his school and the Smith Academy might cooperate in terms of transportation and after-school activities.
Back in Kathy Aschliman's classroom, Shaun and Jataun said they were happy with the new building – even though they didn't know their way around yet.
"I like this one better than the other," Jataun said.
Shaun looked around at his new classmates. "Most of these people I don't even know," he said. "But I know big kids in third and fifth grade. They will help me out."