Students from Mr. Swann’s fifth grade and from Mrs. Elsen’s fourth grade classes helped with the ribbon-cutting for the new gymnasium. (Gary Gibula, Special to the Tribune)

A new gymnasium at Elmwood Elementary School formally opened earlier this week and features a stage, sound system and permanent rock-climbing wall.

The $1.7 million project replaces the previous gym that was barely larger than a small basketball court with a 6,400-square-foot structure.

"I want to congratulate the kids here at Elmwood," District 203 Superintendent of Schools Dan Bridges told students. "You have a wonderful new learning space to enjoy."

Parents and staff had discussed the need for a new gym since 2007.

"This brings us to a totally new level as far as physical fitness and cooperative learning are concerned," said physical education teacher Corby Howard. "And the rock-climbing wall is one of the neatest experiences, I think, for the kids. We really anticipated it being a great physical experience, but what I didn't realize is what a great cooperative and social-emotional experience it is."

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the entire student body sat cross-legged on the gym floor and chanted "cut it, cut it," to Principal Lisa Polomsky.

"When I walked into the gym for the first time, it took my breath away," Polomsky said. "I worked in the West Aurora district for 14 years and aside from opening a couple new schools, we didn't have additions like this."

A Naperville native, Polomsky was hired as principal in June. She had attended Prairie Elementary, Washington Junior High and North High School.

Bridges said Elmwood's enrollment is about at capacity of 600 students now that boundary changes brought some children from Mill Street school.

"This is a proud moment for the city," Councilman Grant Wehrli said. "School districts 203 and 204 are two of the pillars that make Naperville great."

It took five months to build the new addition to the school, which is located south of Edward Hospital at 1024 Magnolia Lane.

In January, the school district will unveil a similar gym under construction at Prairie. At that time, officials also will be accepting bids on a new multi-purpose room planned for Steeple Run Elementary.

"I think everyone benefits from the new gym," parent Robyn Strobel said. "They'll be able to do the kids' plays and programs from a real stage now."

"The new gym is wonderful," said Lucy Drew, who has two children attending Elmwood. "When we were looking for a good school district, we decided to move to Naperville. We're really happy that we did."