Finally – a Grand Opening Celebration

October 21, 2016

 

by Lynne Ober

It was a fitting celebration for a hard-fought Pelham High School renovation that was marked by a grand opening event on Oct. 8 complete with a ribbon cutting and cannons shooting out blue, white and silver confetti.

After a long struggle with failed warrant articles, in 2014, Pelham voters passed a $22.6 million bond warrant article to build a new addition plus renovate the existing high school.  This two-year project has finally come to an end.  “It’s about time,” said Pelham resident and longtime Pelham School Board member Eleanor Burton, as she waited for the grand opening festivities to begin.

When Pelham High School opened in 1974 it was at the forefront of an educational trend that said classrooms were bad and the open concept was much better.  Unfortunately, that approach failed, and walls for classrooms were added, causing significant ventilation problems.  Patrick Corbin, who was on the school board when the school was built, explained that “no windows were put in to save energy costs.  However, the building looked like a shoe factory.”

With the project completed, 29 classrooms (built in the new addition) and a 302-seat auditorium have been added.  There’s lots of natural light, enhanced air circulation and security, more parking, a new student-designed logo, and improved nurses’ office with exam rooms for boys and girls.  The new math area has space for small group instruction or remediation.  Now, with an enlarged cafeteria, students will have three and not four lunch periods, which will enhance instruction.  There’s also a full-service cafeteria where all meals will be cooked.

Above the cafeteria is the new ‘Make Space’ classroom that provides an open area for students to create and innovate.  According to the tour, this space was designed after visiting other makerspaces in private preparatory school in New Hampshire and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.  The improved front office and entrance was designed to create a welcoming environment as well as enhanced security.  The guidance suite has space for private conversations as well as meeting space for students and college recruiters.

Energy-saving fixtures were installed not only in the new addition, but also in the main building.  Already the district has qualified for $35,000 in rebates and plans to apply for more in the renovated spaces.

School Board Vice-Chairman Deb Ryan served enthusiastically as mistress of ceremonies:  “This is a celebration and not a ceremony because we are here to have fun.”  Ryan has long been a cheerleader for the school district and coined the phrase “Pelham Proud.”

In her remarks, Senior Class President Angela Getty said, “My class will forever be the only class to have gone to school in the old Pelham High School and the new one.  I didn’t recognize it this year when school started.  ‘Pelham Pride’ is no longer a goal.  It’s an achievement.”

That was a sentiment echoed by all.  Pelham pride was evident throughout the building.  “This has been a long time coming,” said longtime Pelham Selectman Bill McDevitt.

Pelham Police Lieutenant Anne Perillo said, “This is an awesome building with a great educational environment.”

Superintendent Amanda Lecaroz spoke about a new curriculum with education more centered around students.  With only three lunch periods, it was possible to add a new “snake” (after the mascot) 25-minute period for students.  This can be used getting additional help, working with small groups or using the Make Space in a creative way.  “We have new technology labs among the improvements and, unlike yesteryear, the focus is on the individual students,” stated Lecaroz.

Board of Selectmen Chairman and Pelham High School graduate Doug Viger thanked Deb Ryan for all the work she’s done.  He spoke about how the town and school sides began to work together and, as a result, the town has a new fire station and a beautiful high school that has been expanded and completely renovated.  Calling Pelham the “best place to raise a family,” Viger said he hopes his own children will continue to live in town.

After the ribbon cutting, there was cake in the cafeteria and then tours were offered.  People were also encouraged to wander through the building and explore.  It was definitely a grand day.