Groton seventh-graders get first look at their future school

Groton — Wearing neon vests, safety glasses and hard hats, seventh-graders trekked through the future Groton Middle School on Wednesday to take their first look at what will be their new school.

At the construction site adjacent to Robert E. Fitch High School, workers were busy offloading materials into the building, pouring concrete and installing plumbing, electrical and mechanical components for the consolidated middle school slated to be completed by the end of June.

Project managers, along with school officials, guided about 30 West Side STEM Magnet Middle School students on a tour.

"Where we’re standing right now is the future cafeteria of this building," Ryan Benoit, project manager with O&G Industries, told the students as they stood in a large, unfinished space, where a worker stood on a scissor lift. Benoit then showed them where other features will be, including the theater room, kitchen, classrooms and administration offices.

The students then walked up to the second floor, where Benoit pointed out ductwork and piping that, once the project is completed, will be out of sight behind walls or above ceilings.

In one part of the building, the students looked down to the courtyard where an outdoor classroom is planned. West Side teachers Laura Irace, Lisa Lambert and Rachel Lorinser are designing the outdoor classroom with students, along with colleagues at Cutler Arts and Humanities Magnet Middle School, Superintendent Michael Graner said.

"I feel like it's going to be a good school to go to," said Reese Bogue, a seventh-grader at West Side STEM Magnet Middle School. "It's very big, so there’s going to be a lot of classrooms and a lot of new people I'm going to meet. I'm excited about that."

“I’m really excited for next year, and I wish they also had maybe ninth and tenth grade because I want to stay in this school more than one year," said Layan Faraj, 12, a seventh-grader at West Side, adding that the school is really big.

She said she's so glad she had the opportunity to get to go inside the middle school and meet the architects and see what they do. They even talked about their education, too.

Lorinser said it seems the new building will incorporate both of the town's two current middle schools really well and their different themes and pathways to support both STEM — or science, technology, engineering and math — and arts and humanities.

"It was very fun to get a first-hand view of what the space is going to look like," she said.

Earlier on Wednesday morning, seventh-graders from Cutler and West Side learned about the new middle school during a presentation in the auditorium at Fitch High School, and lined up to ask questions. A group of Cutler students also went on a tour of the site, Graner said.

The new school will have a four-story academic wing, as well as spaces for the gymnasium, the library media center, a cafeteria that will seat about 360 students, a black box theater, makerspace and other features, Amy Samuelson, project manager for the architecture firm The SLAM Collaborative, said.

There will be a separate entrance for school buses and a separate entrance for visitors and parent drop-offs to keep the traffic safe and controlled, she said.

School buses will come in through the Fitch High School entrance and then make a turn into the middle school site, Graner said. Parents will enter through the Ella T. Grasso Technical High School driveway and then continue onto a new road, which will be constructed, to the middle school.

Graner said Wednesday's visit was six years in the making and began with the vision of bringing all the middle school students together into one state-of-the art facility to provide quality education.

The U.S. Department of Education officially approved that Groton Middle School can pursue a STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and math — program, which will blend together the best elements of STEM and arts and humanities, Graner said. Children will have the opportunity to pursue a STEM pathway, or an arts and humanities pathway, or both, he said.

Graner said he told the seventh-graders that the construction of the new middle school represents the beginning of a whole new chapter in the history of Groton Public Schools — and they are going to play a major role in that.

As eighth-graders when the school opens next year, they will set the tone of the school, he said. He called on them to be both smart and kind. He said one of his teachers once told him the goal of education is to develop children who are smart — so they can solve problems facing the world — and kind, because the world needs respect and civility.

Graner said he asked the students to provide suggestions to their teachers about the kinds of clubs and programs they would like to see in the school, so the students will have a strong voice in the planning process.

School officials will be planning this year for the transition to the new middle school next year. The school will open on Sept. 8, 2020, for the 2020-21 school year, he said.

Graner said he briefed both Cutler and West Side teachers on the project and its progress. Teachers were asked to sign up for subcommittees — on topics related to the transition, including scheduling, rules and regulations, and outreach to parents — that will meet throughout this year.   

"More than Words," a diversity club, also is helping to ensure the transition is smooth, including by working directly with sixth- and seventh-graders, Graner said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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