By TAYLOR HARTZ
Educators, administrators, town leaders, and state legislatures joined together this weekend to celebrate the grand openings of the newly renovated John F. Kennedy and Joseph A. DePaolo middle schools.
Members of the community were welcomed to the schools for celebratory speeches and tours of the updated facilities.
After years of planning and construction, JFK and DePaolo opened their doors on the afternoon of Sept. 13, showing off updated classrooms, infrastructure, equipment, and technology.
“They just could not be any nicer,” Sen. Joe Markley (R-Conn.) said about the improvements, which include new media centers, cafeterias, and fitness rooms.
“The beautiful structure is a testament to how much we value what takes place inside of it,” said Markley.
The seven-member committee faced extensive planning obstacles over the course of the project, and there was no shortage of recognition for their perseverance.”
Markley noted that the committee “did a remarkable job” recovering from problems that were faced in early construction, while Town Council Chairman Michael Riccio, who attended DePaolo, applauded the committee for carrying the project through referendums.
“I think it’s a tribute to this community and shows the amount that this community values education,” said Superintendent of Schools Tim Connellan.
At DePaolo, a slideshow created by Christopher Palmieri, Middle School Building Committee Vice Chairman and Vice Principal of DePaolo, showed photos of before, during, and after the long construction.
Looking around at the finished project, DePaolo Principal Frank Pepe said the students at both schools now had a facility that would bring their education into the 21st century. “The infusion of technology is huge,” said Pepe. “Access to more knowledge and research is endless, and it’s at their fingertips.”
Each school added new computer labs, complete with several Macintosh desktops, while many classrooms received new laptop and iPad carts for in class use.
At both schools, students volunteered their time to give tours of the buildings, pointing out all their favorite new aspects.
Decorations lined the walls at each school, with smiley faces and student handprints displaying students “5 favorite things” or “things that make me happy” about the renovations.
Though some students said they noticed some noise and disruption during building hours, they agreed that the finished project was worth it.
Gianna Wadowski and Trevor Messina, eighth-grade students who unveiled the new plaque during Sunday’s ceremony at JFK, said they were most looking forward to the new band and chorus rooms.
“Everything is upgraded,” said Messina, “It’s definitely a really big difference compared to what it was when I was in sixth grade.”
While many students said they were most excited about new technology, others enjoyed the simple redesign of the school.
Seventh grader Kayla Pelletier, giving a tour of DePaolo, said that before the renovations her classes were scattered in different hallways, and she would sometimes go up and down stairs eight times each school day.
“Now it’s a lot easier and less confusing,” said Pelletier, pointing out the organization of one team per hallway, with floor tiles color-coded for each grade and team.
Pelletier was one of hundreds of students that were involved in the grand openings.
While several students played tour guide for parents, alumni, and community leaders, others provided entertainment by performing on stage in the chorus, and playing in the orchestra in the newly landscaped courtyards.
“The building is for them,” said Palmierie, “so it’s important to have them be a part of it.”
“Thank you all for putting up with the craziness and for being here today,” said Board of Education Chairman Brian Goralski to students volunteering at the JFK opening.
Edward Pocock Jr., Chairman of the Middle School Building Committee, also thanked students and staff for accommodating the construction and said that both schools endured the chaos well. The Chairman applauded the town for their support and all the committee and council members for their contributions to the project.
As the doors opened for the first official display at DePaolo, State Rep. Joe Aresimowicz (D-Conn.) urged the community to appreciate the time and effort that had been dedicated to the project over the years. “As you are looking around today at the beauty of it,” he said, “don’t forget the sweat that went into it.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Taylor Hartz, email her at THartz@SouthingtonObserver.com.