Waterford — The message board outside Waterford High School read "Thank You Waterford."
On a sunny, crisp morning on Monday, it was clear that school officials wanted students to know during the opening day celebration that their new school wouldn't have become a reality if it weren't for the support of the community.
"A facility is just that," said Superintendent of Schools Jerome Belair. "A school is a community of teachers and learners. The community of Waterford has great expectations of all of you."
On Monday the high school students started class for the first time in their new state-of-the-art building. The $67 million project, which began in December 2010, includes a 5,000-square-foot media center, a mezzanine-level skywalk that connects a portion of the old Waterford High School to the new three-story addition next door, and extensive technology upgrades.
Before the festivities got under way, students met with advisers and received class schedules and, perhaps more importantly, they received a map of the building.
Students wandered the hallways looking for their lockers. Junior Katt McCabe took no chances and highlighted her classrooms on the map.
"It feels like the first day of school," McCabe said. "I like that there is a lot more technology. The old school was like 50 years old and it was really run down."
Senior Ray Jackson said he woke up excited and couldn't wait to start the school day, although he lamented that he will only have use of the school for another two more months. "I like the way the school is set up," said Jackson. "It reminds me of a college campus."
Principal Don Macrino gave morning announcements and again told the students that they should be thankful to be learning in "the finest high school in all of Connecticut."
He said that the town spent a great deal of money to support their futures. "Such a commitment is rare in this economy," said Macrino.
After announcements, the entire student body gathered on the football field. The band played; the cheerleaders did a dance.
But the event that drew the most cheers and screams from the crowd was when Capt. Sal Tarantino, commander of the Second Continental Light Dragoons, dressed as a Lancer, the school's mascot, rode on his horse, Prince, and circled the football field several times.
Tarantino led the crowd to the front of the school, where the flags were raised, the national anthem sung and a poem read.
After the "Lancer" rode his horse, with sword in hand, to cut the ceremonial banner to the school's entrance, Macrino gently reminded the students, "Now, it's time for reality, first period is starting. Come on in."