FORT WORTH -- Passing by Vista Ridge Middle School on Tuesday morning, one wouldn't think the building was ready for the first day of school.

But the Keller Independent School District's newest campus welcomed 250 fifth and sixth graders to a building ripe with innovative bells and whistles -- even if it's not completely finished.

Most districts in the area will return to school on Monday, but Keller and other “Districts of Innovation” are allowed to start the school year early. Superintendent Dr. Rick Westphall said that comes with advantages.

“We can complete a semester in a way that balances fall and spring. It was a big deal for the high schools,” said Westphall. “Now we are out [of school] before Memorial Day weekend, so it helps balance things out.”

It will still be some time until construction is done at Vista Ridge. There are still construction vehicles and large mounds of dirt on the outside, while the second floor of the building will still be closed on the first day of school.

Learning steps

The first floor is complete with features like the “learning steps” in the front lobby. The steps are an open area in front of a stage and can be used for many different purposes. Much like the “open office” concept, Westphall said the steps are designed to inject energy and collaboration into the learning experience.

"It is an open concept where people can come out and have a collaborative effort where they can learn. It gives an out-of-classroom experience for teachers and students," he said.

Other parts of the building also lend purpose to the spaces between classrooms. Some hallways have carpeted areas with chairs for students and teachers to sit outside classrooms, while some fine arts room have large, garage door-like windows which open to courtyards.

Vista Ridge Middle School was part of the 2014 bond referendum and cost $40 million to build. It will add seventh and eighth grade students in coming years.