East Lyme celebrates first of three open house tours for newly renovated schools

East Lyme — School and town officials, as well as parents and students, gathered Monday evening in front of Niantic Center School to celebrate the first of three ribbon-cutting ceremonies taking place this week at the town’s three newly renovated elementary schools.

The Flanders School open house will be held at 5 p.m. Tuesday, while the Lillie B. Haynes open house will be held at 4:45 p.m. Thursday. Both will include short ribbon-cutting ceremonies, as well as tours of the schools’ classrooms, main offices, cafeterias and libraries for residents.

At Monday’s ceremony, officials highlighted the concerted efforts and coordination it took to see three simultaneous renovations completed over the last 15 months. As part of that, students and teachers in the schools had to move to new classrooms two or three times throughout the year as phases of the renovations were completed.

“This is a wonderful accomplishment,” said Board of Education Chairman Tim Hagen. “We looked at a whole bunch of different ways of accomplishing this and I think we came up with the best solution for the town.”

Hagen said Monday that even though some accounting was still needed for the $37.5 million project, he was sure that the final costs for the project would end up on or under budget by "a couple hundred thousand" dollars.

Hagen and Al Jacunski of Jacunski Humes Architects, who designed the project, also said the renovations were eligible to receive around $8 million in state reimbursements. Hagen said that money would be returned to the town.

The idea for an elementary school project, which was raised in 2010, started to move forward the next year, Hagen said, when a committee was formed to address the issue of the town’s three aging elementary schools.

Having considered several plans since that time — some of which had involved demolishing the Niantic Center School — townspeople approved the plan to renovate the three schools in March 2017, after school officials found that revised enrollment projections forecasted an increase in elementary students, thereby creating a need for all three schools.

Work started in June 2018, and lasted 15 months with work nearly completed by the first day of school on Aug. 28, with only renovations on some of the school's gymnasiums still incomplete.  Superintendent Jeffrey Newton said Monday after the ceremony that all the school's gymnasiums would be completed by the end of this week. Construction firm O & G Industries was the contractor for the project. 

Renovations included improvements to air quality, handicapped accessibility, security, interior building finishes and electrical, lighting and other technology, as well as the replacement of the roof at Flanders Elementary School; reconfigured drop-off areas and the re-establishment of the second gym at Lillie B. Haynes; and upgrades to the gym and exterior masonry at Niantic Center School.

At Monday’s ceremony, First Selectman Mark Nickerson and Niantic Center School Principal Jeffrey Provost highlighted how great they felt it was that Niantic Center School, which holds a special place in the hearts of many residents, was saved from demolition.

“We had many people saying we should go down to one school or two schools, for many reasons,” Nickerson said. “But this school has so much history. So much of the bones of East Lyme are in this school. Multiple generations have gone through this school. And I’m so happy we saved it.”

While reminiscing how he had once attended the Niantic Center School in the 1970s, Provost added, “It’s been a long time coming, but we are here today and wow, what a beautiful school. It was the right thing to keep all three schools.”

m.biekert@theday.com

 

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect the correct times of the open houses.

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