With public representatives, builders, parents, teachers and more than 800 students in attendance, the Beecher Road School community on May 31 celebrated with a ribbon cutting the closure to its two-year renovation project, which overhauled the building’s envelope and its heating, cooling and air handling systems. “This ribbon cutting marks the end of just about two years of hard work,” said then-School Supt. Dr. Guy Stella in addressing the school community. For Dr. Stella it was the culmination of a long process of careful planning and communication, which took up a good part of his 10-year tenure at the helm of the local district. The icing on the cake was the installation of 970 solar panels on the roof of the sprawling school building this spring.
Under a bright sun, the whole school assembled around the flagpole in front of the North entrance. The Beecher Owls, along with the color guard, provided musical entertainment. “What a great day for Woodbridge,” said First Selectman Ellen Scalettar at the ribbon cutting. The multi-year effort netted a school building that is “more energy efficient, cooler, greener and safer,” she said. Amongst others, she thanked the Building Committee for its countless hours of input, and the state delegation that “works across party lines to maximize the state grant”.
State Senator Joe Crisco and State Rep. Themis Klarides read a citation from the state, which congratulated the project for being a model of cooperation in the best interest of the children who grow up in this town.
The Building Committee – the third of its kind – consisted of Jeff Kaufman, chairman; Sheila McCreven, Greg Coyne, Andrew Esposito and Jason Pfannenbecker. In his brief remarks, Kaufman said although there were five members, committee votes were always unanimous.
John Rice, one of the project engineers with AKF Group, said the significance of this project was “unlocking the vast potential of an existing building,” versus building a completely new school.
The $13.4 million renovation included security updates, such as a sally port, extended camera surveillance and other measures which were added in the aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2014; also a new lighting system, air conditioning, solar panels and other sources of renewable energy; updated wireless systems, and new outside walls and windows for the older wings.
Scalettar said the project stands out not only for its scope, but also because it came in on budget and on time. The exact cost will only be known after the town recouped reimbursements from the state, a process which is expected to take several months.
In the meantime, the school is expected to recoup significant energy savings. The solar panels alone may save the taxpayer up to a third of the costs for electricity. The project is expected to save the town more than $250,000 annually, and provide a building that is healthier, more comfortable and more conducive to learning.
Stefan Hartman with Ross Solar Group, in addressing the students encouraged them to do “some quick math”. Until those who enter the school this year and graduate high school at age 18, the use of solar energy will prevent the burning of some 4,500 barrels of oil, he said, the equivalent of about 400 cars.
Dr. Stella also thanked Board of Education chairman Margaret Hamilton, calling her “the quiet heroine”. Hamilton, in addressing the children, said given that most of the construction happened when school was not in session and that most of the improvements are hidden in walls and under the ceiling, “it’s hard to see what happened.
“But we get to see the canopy,” she told the children, “and we get to feel the temperature inside. Kids, say thank-you to your parents,” she added.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent