NFA transitional program's new home a work in progress

Principal Kathleen Cote of the new Norwich Free Academy Transitional High School looks over what will become her office as Cote and NFA Chief Financial Officer Rich Rand tour the building at 90 Sachem St. Wednesday.
Principal Kathleen Cote of the new Norwich Free Academy Transitional High School looks over what will become her office as Cote and NFA Chief Financial Officer Rich Rand tour the building at 90 Sachem St. Wednesday.

Norwich - Kathleen Cote, the newly hired principal of the Norwich Free Academy transitional program, stood Wednesday in a gutted room with wires exposed, bare walls and a coating of dust on the floor and construction equipment.

Wednesday was Cote's first day on the job as principal of the program that will replace the city's Thames River Academy and serve 62 Norwich high school students.

The gutted room will be Cote's new office in the building at 90 Sachem St. that will house the transitional program and another new NFA program for special education students ages 18 to 21 who have finished high school.

Rich Rand, NFA's chief financial officer, led a tour of the building as construction workers from G. Schnip Construction continued with their business of completing a $2.5 million renovation project to convert the former office building into a school. The project is on schedule to open by mid-November. Until then, the new transitional program will be housed at the city-owned Bishop School, where Thames River Academy had been located.

Cote said most of the staff for the transitional program has been hired, and she will meet with those teachers and support staff today to plan core class offerings and electives for the incoming students. Before school starts on Aug. 29, students will be invited to an open house at NFA's Frank Center and again at Bishop School.

By mid-September, the interior of the new school building on Sachem Street is expected to be in shape for tours by students and their families, Cote said.

The building will be equipped with a wireless network and will be connected to NFA's computer and telephone systems. Students will hear the NFA morning announcements and will be able to project their laptop screens onto the classroom SMART board, Cote said.

NFA also has hired Tom Dufort from the Windham school system as the transition specialist to lead the special education program, expected to serve about 15 students.

NFA Special Education Director Lisa Wheeler said by state law, special education students have a right to public education until age 21, when they transition to state adult programs. The NFA program, titled Lifeskills Employment and Adult Development, will be a post-graduate program. The school will allow students to explore job options, obtain internships, navigate public transportation and prepare for independent life.

The new special education program will occupy the ground floor of the Sachem Street building, where a long room will be equipped with two room dividers to create three classrooms. This floor also will house the school nurse's office, a lunchroom for all students with a door leading to an outside eating area, the campus safety office and bathrooms. Hot lunches will be brought to the building from NFA, as there will be no cooking facilities in the building, Rand said.

The second floor is at street level on Sachem Street. The main entrance will feature a canopy-covered sidewalk where students will get on and off the bus. Inside, a reception desk will be placed in the main lobby outside Cote's new office and the adjacent guidance counselor's office. To the left will be the multipurpose room, which can double as a meeting room or classroom. A conference room will be to the right of the lobby.

Four main classrooms, including one combined art and science lab room, will occupy most of this floor, with a hallway lit from a skylight above. All classrooms will have large windows at both the exterior and interior walls to give a more open atmosphere and allow teachers and Cote to peer into the rooms without disturbing activities, Rand said.

Two more classrooms, including one additional art/science room, will occupy the third floor.

NFA purchased the 20,000-square-foot building for $1.4 million in 2003 when school enrollment was peaking. Some classes and programs, including EMT training, were located in the building, and a three-bay garage in the rear houses the NFA facilities department. When enrollment started to decline, the school print shop was moved there. The print shop will remain in the building, Rand said.


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