"You’re going to have the best library in the state."
That was the pledge to Blanche Pope Elementary School children yesterday from Bill Halamandaris, co-founder of the Heart of America Foundation.
The nonprofit has partnered with Target Corp. to fund complete library makeovers for schools in low-income communities across the country. Yesterday, Pope students got the news their library would be next on the list.
The Waimanalo school is the first in the state selected for the makeover program.
Halamandaris said the redesigned library will feature 2,000 new books, new furniture and a technology upgrade that will include new computers and interactive "smart" boards.
In addition, each student will get seven books of their own to start a home library.
Pope students, gathered in the school’s cafeteria yesterday, erupted with shouts of joy after the surprise announcement.
School librarian Paul Akau said that was about the same response staff had when they got word the campus had been selected.
"We were crying," he said, chuckling. "I am very excited."
Halamandaris described the library at the school now as "antiquated, dilapidated and dreary."
"It’s not someplace you would be by choice," he said.
When the redesign is complete, Halamandaris added, the library "will be the heart of the school."
Work on the makeover will start immediately and likely wrap up around May.
Halamandaris couldn’t estimate how much the redesign would cost, because it’s unclear how much construction and infrastructure upgrade work will be needed.
Students will get a say in what elements they want to see in the library and were given markers and white paper yesterday to come up with designs of their own.
Heart of America Foundation, with financial help from Target, renovated 50 school libraries last year and plans to redesign 40 more this year. The library makeover program is part of Target’s plans to donate $1 billion to education-related initiatives by the end of 2015.
The library renovations are aimed at fostering a love for reading in struggling communities.
"We can give them the tools to do better," said Halamandaris.
About 80 percent of the 230 students at Pope Elementary are from low-income households, up from 68 percent three years ago.
Halamandaris said the school was chosen, in part, because of big improvements in student achievement in recent years.
About 62 percent of students at the school were proficient in reading last school year, up from 37 percent in 2007. Some 45 percent were proficient in math, up from 22 percent in 2007.