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Old Lyme - Standing in front of the newly renovated Lyme-Old Lyme High School in Thursday's bright morning light, community leaders told hundreds gathered that the school will serve generations of students and represent the towns' commitment to education.
"Today we take stock of what it means to be part of this community," Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education Chairman James Witkins said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. "Today we take a moment to savor it - may these walls stand forever."
The towns' selectmen and officials, school board members, state senators and representatives, teachers, administrators, students and parents were celebrating the completion of the "renovate as new" high school project after three years of construction.
The project is expected to come in $4.6 million under budget, at $35.26 million.
Students then ushered parents and residents through the school's classrooms and laboratories, beginning with a sun-filled commons space near the entrance. The high-ceiling room, once an outdoor area between two separate buildings, now serves as a gathering space for students to study on cushioned chairs or eat lunch at tables.
The remodeled school, with a geothermal heating and cooling system, also includes sound-proofed music rooms with wall panels for better acoustics, new computers and an upgraded sound system, Meredith Britton, a senior, and John Fairfield-Sonn, also a senior, pointed out.
The students showed off an expanded fitness center, a remodeled auditorium with a choral pit, a gymnasium with new flooring and an outdoor atrium for students to socialize or even attend the occasional class.
At the school's media center, students gathered at tables for class, while several others studied or typed on laptops in chairs and tables in the front. In classrooms, students built sculptures on multi-use tables and worked on rows of computers.
Britton, who plans to pursue a career in neuroscience and biology, said she has enjoyed taking Advanced Placement biology in a new classroom with space for instruction, laboratories and even a preparation room.
The school's open hallways and commons area promotes more socializing among students in different grades, she said. She also favors the indoor brightness, with light streaming through many windows.
"I really love the light," she said.
Lyme resident Peter White said he was in the first graduating class of the high school building, built 30 years ago.
"It's designed so much better," he said in appreciation of the newly renovated building.
At the ceremony, Principal James Wygonik thanked the community for their support and the faculty and students' patience through construction.
After thanking officials and school board members, Russell Gomes, chairman of the school board's building committee, said all but one sub-contractor for the renovation project was from Connecticut. Torrington-based O+G Industries was the project's construction manager, and Middletown-based Northeast Collaborative Architects was the architecture firm.
Senior Class President David Peck said students should be proud when walking the school's brightly lit halls, gathering in the commons space, performing experiments in science labs or taking tests in a quiet room.
"Be sure to take pride in everything you do. Be optimistic that you can achieve your goals," he told his classmates. "In that way, we will have given the townspeople the greatest gift in return for their vote of confidence."