U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran and Acting Secretary of the U.S. Army Ryan McCarthy toured Seitz Elementary School at Fort Riley Thursday morning, the latter’s first time visiting the school since its groundbreaking in 2011. McCarthy, as a special assistant, and then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates helped secure funding for its development and construction.

Legislative and executive entities approved funding for the school in October 2010, and the building at 27500 Rifle Range Road opened in late 2012. The road to secure that funding was not simple, however, Moran and McCarthy said.

“A long time ago, the Junction City school district was anxiously looking for resources to increase the number of elementary and middle schools on post, and there were really no federal funds to be of help,” Moran said.

Moran said he personally spoke with Gates about needing resources for military families and the secretary later visited with Fort Riley families. It wasn’t long before Gates made a push, along with the help of McCarthy, to search for funding avenues for education at the base.

McCarthy said it was nine difficult months of work as back in 2010, surges in the Middle East, a security crisis in Africa and national economic problems took a toll on military families.

“There’s nothing more important than protecting Army families,” McCarthy said. “We recruit soldiers, but we retain families, and to have a facility that’s as beautiful as the one behind us and to see happy children, motivated teachers — they’re our future. They’re the strength of our army.”

Moran said it is important to continue to provide resources and support to Fort Riley, as well as advocate for the base’s importance to military leaders.

“This is an investment in Fort Riley and Fort Riley’s future,” he said.

School administrators, as well as a select bunch of student presenters, led the tour through the building.

“Some of my favorite things about our school are it’s safe, it’s fun, and I like the food,” fourth-grader John Paulo Galit said during a stop. “One time I even got to sit in (principal) Mrs. Testa’s office, and I wasn’t even in trouble. When I move to another school, I hope the new school does everything just like Seitz Elementary.”

Principal Jodi Testa explained the school’s collaboration with the EPA, USD 475 and Fort Riley Officials to construct a secondary parking lot that helps collect data on runoff water.

Testa also said that 90% of the school’s square footage offers a view of natural sunlight, and the school has a foster grandparents program that is intended to support students and teachers with their mental and social health.

The school also extends the school day until 5:30 p.m. four days a week to help with tutoring, homework and other learning opportunities through the 21st Century Learning Grant.

Seitz Elementary is named after retired Lt. Gen. Richard Seitz, an active supporter of Geary County schools. The school has about 650 staff and students.