Principal and faculty at Herron Elementary School described it as a prison.
"The building is very institutional," said librarian Karen Egger, who transferred to the North Las Vegas school in January. "With the fence, it looks like a prison."
The cinderblock walls, painted a flat grayish brown, don't help either.
The feeling of being sentenced to Herron wasn't any better in the library, said Egger, pointing to the skylights.
"Windows were so dirty that light barely filtered through," she said, describing the library as "dark and ugly."
The state of the library hints at the school's literacy rate. Only 25 percent of third-graders read at grade level, according to annual state tests. The majority lag two to three years behind, said Principal Judy Jordahl, who took over in January.
Herron students are hit with a double whammy: Nine out of 10 students in the largely Hispanic neighborhood speak English as a second language, and every single student qualifies for free or reduced lunch, a program for children of low-wage-earning parents.
But the staff and principal won't hide behind excuses. So, they sought a library makeover from department store titan Target and the Heart of America Foundation, something that they will do at 41 other American schools this year. Some 160 Target workers gutted and rebuilt the school library and brought in bean bag chairs, a SmartBoard and nine computers.
Borrowing the dramatic finale from the TV show "Extreme Makeover," the crew unveiled its four weeks of work to smiling students, staff and family Friday morning. Like the shell of an Easter egg, the walls have been painted bright yellow, green and blue.
To see the students paraded through a crowd of cheering parents in the school plaza, through the library and out the back door.
"They're just bouncing off the walls," Egger said.
In the cafeteria next door, 100 volunteers assembled packages on an assembly line of lunch tables like elves in Santa's shop on Christmas Eve. Each student was given seven books to keep, and any siblings who came along to the ribbon cutting also got seven more books.
"Putting a book in the hands of a child is the first step," said Superintendent Dwight Jones, noting that the room looks nice and the technology is impressive. "But do you know what really matters? Tonight, these kids will have a book of their own to read."
For many, that's a first.
Before Egger took over, students couldn't just wander into the school library. They came once every six days with their classes, she said. And it was closed before and after school. She opens it early and stays late, letting children linger.
The fact that everyone is making such a big deal out of the library makes the students excited about reading, said Amanda Reed, special education teacher, whose students had eagerly awaited Friday's reopening.
That's the point, said Target and Heart of America representatives, who were handing "We're making noise in the school library" stickers to students snaking through the library on their quick tour. The students proudly placed the stickers on their shirts, arms and even foreheads.
Under new leadership, Herron Elementary is focusing on reading, fifth-grade reading teacher Flora Ford said.
"We emphasize that they need it for every class and any job, for life," Ford said. "Ordering food off a menu. Everything."
Principal Jordahl also asked volunteers to dress up the rest of the school, which they did Friday while everyone celebrated the library. They painted school buildings in blocks of bright color. The plain concrete plaza at the school's center now resembled a life-size board game, with a colorful trail meandering through painted landscape. Sunrise High School students painted a mural on one of the main walls.
But the focus remained on the library and its 2,000 new books.
"We are going to make a promise to these people that we're going to read as much as we can, aren't we?" the principal asked her students.
"Yeah!" students yelled.
Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at email@example.com or 702-383-0279.