GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - It took a vision, nearly ten years of planning, and a lot of hard work. On Thursday, the new Hope Academy in Gulfport opened its doors.
"I was, like, excited. Like, excited as a giant," said Riley Hughes.
Six-year-old Riley wasn't the only one who was thrilled about the first day of school in a brand new building. Other students instantly fell in love.
"I thought it was really cool. It was so much different," said third grader Marlie Rath.
The 13,000-square-foot building provides eight classrooms and space for specialized classes such as Spanish, German, visual arts and strings. Teachers say they have been counting down to opening day.
"Very kid friendly, lots of sunshine coming in, which we didn't have in our other building, and it's just so accessible to the kids. We have bathrooms in our own classrooms, just very exciting," said kindergarten teacher Janice Stewart.
The dream began after Hurricane Katrina heavily damaged the old school in D'Iberville. Two years ago, Hope Academy moved into a temporary building in Bayou View.
"This Hope Academy feels like a school to us. We want this school to be the best of the best, and the best way to sum it up is this is a wow moment; a moment in time," said Raulston.
The private school houses 80 students pre-K2 through third grade. The goal is to grow, adding a grade every year until it reaches the 12th grade.
"I love this school, because mostly it's something new every day," said Riley.
The school is not quite finished yet, as crews continue the finishing touches. The next step is to landscape the grounds, which is being funded mainly by contributions from parents.
All new furniture, playground equipment, cafeteria bench tables and built-in bookcases should be arriving in the summer. Additionally, every student will eventually have access to Chromebooks in the classroom.
The $6 million Hope Academy is located just off O'Neal Road, and was funded by FEMA and private donations.