At Long Last: New Leb Cheers
By Richard Kaufman
After years of hard work, determination and persistence, the brand new New Lebanon School officially opened its doors to students and faculty on Wednesday morning.
A sea of purple filled the cafeteria for the inaugural assembly, as students and teachers were given shirts with yellow lettering on the front that read: Est. 2019, The New New Lebanon School. Families of the students stood behind them.
“We’re only here because of the hard work, the dedication and the competence of everyone in this room,” said principal, Barbara Riccio. “Our wonderful parents, our amazing children… That’s what this morning is all about.”
The old school was cramped, overcrowded and in violation of the state’s racial balance laws. It will begin to be demolished in the spring.
The new, intra-district elementary International Baccalaureate magnet school, which will now serve pre-K through fifth grade, was designed to accommodate the growing population, and address racial imbalance by attracting magnet students from other areas of town.
State funding for the $37 million project was in limbo for several months due to the historic budget impasse in Hartford in 2017. But the Greenwich delegation to Hartford, with hard work and dedication, was ultimately able to secure the money that was needed.
The project is expected to be reimbursed up to 64 percent of the total price tag because it was built, in part, to address the racial balance issues.
To date, the project has received four reimbursements from the state, totaling $15.7 million.
“When we were up in Hartford, we had some people tell us that they were never going to allow this school to come to fruition. Because of you guys and because I had a fantastic team behind me in [former] State Sen. Scott Frantz, State Reps. [Fred] Camillo and [Livvy] Floren, we were able to overcome all of the odds to make sure we got the money to be able to build this brand new, beautiful school for you guys,” said former State Rep. Mike Bocchino (R-150).
“This is family, this is our community. For you guys, we say, ‘Welcome home.'”
Stephen Walko, chair of the New Lebanon School Building Committee, thanked the students, parents and faculty for helping to deliver a new school the town desperately needed.
“While we know you’ve always had exceptional teachers, you now have an exceptional school to build off of your dreams. Make your dreams come true in this building. Make it a special building, not just a magnificent building,” he said. “Babe Ruth once said, ‘Never let the fear of striking out prevent you from playing the game.’ I want you, each and every day, to swing for the fences. Swing hard, swing often and swing for it all.”
Board of Education Chair, Peter Bernstein, said that after all the BOE meetings, it’s extra special to stand inside the new school.
“We don’t always get to see the fruits of what we do. We don’t always get to see something physical. Today is really exciting for me because of all the time we’ve spent [trying to get this done],” he said.
Bernstein said the students are part of something special, and that they will always be a part of this new building even when they’ve graduated from the district.
“This is a school for you, but it’s also a school for the entire town,” he added. “It’s something to celebrate.”
New Leb. Student Council Leaders, Theresa Knuth and Tristan Bates, spoke on behalf of their fellow classmates.
“For years, all of us had to persevere with no room and no space, but we did it,” Knuth said. “Now, in this new building, we can finally bring in pre-K and Kindergarten students. Now we can all be a big and amazing IB community together.”
Knuth thanked Riccio, who will be retiring at the end of the school year.
“Mrs. Riccio, your presence will be felt, your legacy will live on, you will be missed. Thank you Mrs. Riccio,” she said.
Bates thanked the New Leb. community for welcoming him into the school a few years ago.
“When I came to New Lebanon, I felt nervous and I missed my school in Harrison. My brothers were my only friends, but in no time I really felt at home,” he said. “I’m proud and excited for this new adventure, and I’m grateful for our principal Mrs. Riccio’s persistence. Thank you for making this dream a reality.”
There will be a Community Open House featuring school and town officials on Saturday, Feb. 23 from 10 a.m., to 12 p.m. The public will have a chance to tour the new building. From 1 p.m., to 3 p.m., there will be a Magnet Program Open House for those interested in learning more about the school and the IB Program. New Lebanon is currently accepting applications for the 2019-2020 school year.
More photos from New Leb Opening Day: