New Wheeler middle/high school open for business

North Stonington — Most two-hour delays involve some sort of messy precipitation.

But instead of snow or slush, students at Wheeler Middle/High School got a two-hour delay Monday for a new school.

The new building, located across the street from the old one and attached to the gymatorium, opened a little more than a year after crews broke ground on the project. 

It's the product of a district-wide overhaul project that took 13 years of discussions and two referendums, the second of which won the support of the town by a 1,352-611 vote in February 2018.

The $38.5 million school project will also include the renovation of the elementary school and demolition of the middle school wing of the old middle/high school. Superintendent Peter Nero said phase two, the elementary school renovations, also began Monday; kids in grades kindergarten through fifth are in the old middle/high school building along with the sixth-graders, who will now become part of the elementary school.

Cheerleaders rallied in front of the new school, and the student band kept the mood lively Monday with marching band renditions of "Louie, Louie," "Uptown Funk" and "Sweet Caroline" as their classmates entered the new building, a mix of smiles and looks of mild bewilderment in the unfamiliar space.

Anticipating the confusion, teachers lined up outside their new classrooms with signs that ranged from whose room was where to "We are Wheeler" and "#BuiltIt" posters created by art students. The hashtag is a continuation of the social media campaign that students and proponents of the school project created to support the project, following #BuildIt ahead of the referendum and #BuildingIt during construction.

Principal Kristen St. Germain said she was appreciative that the students have a space they can be proud of, especially after so many years and setbacks. The school environment has a significant impact on students, she said, and it could be hard to stay positive when the roof leaked on rainy days.

"It's just a breath of fresh air," she said of the new school. "It just makes you feel really good when you're in the space."

Faculty and staff spent the end of last week moving their equipment and materials across the street with the help of some of the seniors, who had spearheaded the social media campaign for the project.

Both St. Germain and Nero highlighted the new school's cafeteria and common area, designed more like a casual meeting space or a food court than a traditional lunchroom with cafe tables and charging stations. Other upgrades include higher-security doors and windows, touchscreen smartboards, a green roof and chemistry labs that now allow the school to offer AP Chemistry courses. And every room incorporates the school's signature maroon and cream color palette. The middle school classrooms are on the ground floor, and the high school is on the second floor.

"Obviously, we're thrilled," Nero said. "It's just spectacular."

a.hutchinson@theday.com

Editor's Note: The spelling of school psychologist Carley Higginbotham's first name has been corrected in a photo caption.

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