Grasso Tech students start school year in brand-new building
Groton — Ella T. Grasso Technical High School seniors Logan Woodall and Mariana Latorre remember when construction started next to their school during their freshman year.
Every morning, students looked out from their bus and saw the site changing and the new school taking shape over time, they said.
Students were excited — and a little nervous — Thursday to step foot into the new 226,000-square-foot, three-story building with "GT" on the outside. The interior of the building features blue and gray tones to match the school's colors, as well as wood paneling, large windows and bright lighting.
"I'm super excited to actually finally be here and understand everything that's going to be going on and experience the whole new school," Woodall said.
He and Latorre said the facility made them feel more motivated to learn. They described the school as welcoming, prestigious and professional.
"It’s a lot more high tech," Latorre said. "We have a lot more new technology here compared to our old school."
The climate-controlled building includes a new auditorium with more than 300 seats, a student-run restaurant, classrooms and shop areas, a college-style cafeteria, a library media center with stations where students can sit and work together, and a gym and fitness center with new equipment.
Principal Patricia M. Feeney expressed excitement about the brand-new space and programs that have been added this year.
She said the school is providing a new four-year welding program and a new four-year digital media program. The school also is offering a two-year guest services and hospitality management program for juniors and seniors.
Construction on the approximately $128 million project, funded through the state Department of Administrative Services, started in June 2017, Feeney said.
The former school facility was aging and had issues, from leaks at times when it rained to an HVAC system and other infrastructure in need of repairs, she said. With little cost difference between a complete renovation and building a brand-new facility, the decision was made to build a new school on existing acreage, she said.
The school buildings are similar in size, but the older building had unused space, while the layout in the new building is more conducive for a high school setting, she said.
"It's a very inviting, very welcoming atmosphere," Feeney said.
Dean of Students Jonathan Grossman said the new school — which has the capacity to accommodate 800 students in the future — provides an academic, professional environment for students.
"They're more motivated to be here, to learn in their shops and excel," he said.
The second phase of the school project entails demolishing the old building in the late fall and early spring and then beginning to build athletic fields, Feeney said.
Athletic Director Gregg Antoch said an athletic complex with a turf field, track and field house will be installed on the site of the old school, while the existing soccer field will be turned into a baseball and softball complex.
Antoch said Grasso Tech hopes the "state-of-the-art" athletic facilities will draw in more students and allow the school to offer more sports programs on site. Students at Grasso Tech, which is part of a football co-operative, are bused to Norwich to play football, but Grasso hopes it will host football with the new turf complex. The school also is looking at adding lacrosse on site.
On Thursday, students walked the hallways and looked at the new space and started their school year in new classrooms and shops. Freshmen, sophomores and juniors started school on Thursday, while seniors will start school on Friday. Latorre and Woodall were at school on Thursday because they are student mentors.
Latorre had looked through the windows into the hairdressing shop and said it was nicely lit and more spacious and inviting.
"It looks so pretty," she said.
"I just feel like everything's just more up-to-date and you can actually interact with everyone a little easier from what I noticed," said Woodall, who is in the drafting shop, adding that overall there is more and better equipment.
Teachers also were excited about the new facility.
Peter Barber, welding instructor, said the welding shop is the best he's ever seen or worked in. He will be teaching students primarily welding and fabrication, which will prepare them for careers at Electric Boat and other manufacturing companies, along with other jobs.
"Locally, there's a huge demand," he said.
At a time when the automotive industry is expected to change immensely over the next five years, John Blake, head of the automotive department, said the school's technology is "right on the cutting edge."
"I love this shop," said Blake, as he stood in the space with new equipment, drop lights and large windows. "This is state-of-the-art all the way."