By Richard Kaufman
Two years to the day since the initial groundbreaking, the community gathered in the gymnasium of the new New Lebanon School last Saturday for the official dedication of the building to the Town of Greenwich and the Greenwich Board of Education.
The school officially opened to students and faculty this past February, and the demolition of the old school took place in the spring.
Along with residents and New Leb students, state and local elected officials, and members of the New Lebanon School Building Committee (NLSBC), were in attendance at the dedication ceremony.
Several speakers talked about the school and the impact it has had, and will continue to have, on the community.
“We can look forward to many, many years of educational excellence and memories made here in this state of the art facility,” said First Selectman, Fred Camillo, who praised the delegation to Hartford that he used to be a part of, for securing funding for construction.
Due to the historic budget impasse in Hartford several years ago, state funding for the project was put in jeopardy for months. However, with perseverance and dedication, the school was able to come to fruition. Camillo thanked former State Sen. Scott Frantz, former State Rep. Mike Bocchino, and State Rep. Livvy Floren for their hard work.
“Three times the money for this school was taken out of the budget by the governor. Three times, the delegation worked with everybody up there and met with every single legislator to make sure that money was put back in there,” Camillo added. It’s expected that the state will reimburse the town for up to 64 percent of the total $34.3 million project cost.
State Rep. Stephen Meskers (D-150) said the school is now in the hands of “a dedicated band of educators.”
“I think the most important thing we can do today is dedicate the school to those professionals who will lead our children into the future,” he said.
Greenwich Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Toni Jones, pointed out the ways in which New Lebanon School is special.
“There are almost 88,000 K-5 schools in America, and very few of them look like New Lebanon. Not only do we have a brand new school, but the 21st century learning environment that is provided for our staff and students makes such a big difference for students,” she said, pointing out the bright colors and open, flowing learning spaces.
The modernized building features a centrally located learning commons equipped with flexible furnishings and adaptable technological infrastructure, which allows for multiple zones of simultaneous learning. There are small group collaborative areas and independent study areas.
The building is also designed to meet the sustainability goals established by the Educational Specifications and to achieve a gold-level LEED rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.
There are 21 general classrooms, four dedicated classrooms for art, music and other activities, along with a media center, gymnasium and cafeteria.
The old school was cramped, and was cited by the State Department of Education for violating the state’s racial balance laws. The new school aims to address that issue by attracting magnet students from other areas of town.
Clare Kilgallen, a member of the NLSBC and co-president of the PTA at New Leb., said the school’s current student population of 300 represents a 31 percent increase from the same time last year. There are 23 magnet students as well.
“If you build it, they will come, and they are coming,” she said, adding that the sod is growing on the outside fields, which are set to open in April. “This campus is our children’s field of dreams and [the field of dreams] for the generations of children to come.”
New Leb. Principal Alexandra Bartholomew, who was hired last summer following the retirement of Barbara Riccio, said the students, faculty and families have embraced the building.
“Our students’ and teachers’ lives have truly changed in an incredible way over the last 10 months,” she remarked, while thanking the NLSBC and Board of Education. “Our students and community truly deserved this. It’s incredible to watch our students use their minds to solve problems, challenge one another, and to discover new things in this innovative space.”
Board of Education Chair, Peter Bernstein, noted that the school meets the needs of the entire town of Greenwich.
“The world of learning and teaching has changed, and it’s time our buildings actually reflect that. This is that reflection,” he said.
Stephen Walko, Chair of the NLSBC, said that the project was completed on time and on budget. He shared that a final Certificate of Occupancy will be presented and on display in the school by the end of December.
“Famed basketball coach, John Wooden, once said, ‘Make everyday your masterpiece.’ I consider New Lebanon now to be a blank canvas. I can’t wait to see what the students will create,” Walko said. “Students, go and do wonderful things. Be caring, make us proud, we know you will. This school is for you.”
One of those students, Anthony Cebanos, a fifth grader, spoke about his experiences in the new building.
“The new New Lebanon School has a lot of peaceful and open spaces that help me learn. The soundproof rooms enable a quiet learning environment, and the breakout spaces allow us to work in places other than a traditional classroom,” Cebanos remarked. “Although I hold fond memories of the old New Lebanon building, I could never have imagined just how great the new New Lebanon School would be. I’ve created a lot of memories here with my friends and teachers.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Assistant Principal, Klara Monaco, presented former New Leb. principal, Barbara Riccio, with an artistic rendering of the school. Each member of the NLSBC will get a rendering, too.
After the ceremony, Riccio said it was “overwhelming” to be in the new building. She credited the New Leb. community for going through the construction seamlessly.
“They stood through all of this and proved why they deserved to be in this space. I’m so proud of the hard work of the teachers and the students,” she said.
Bocchino said he felt fortunate to lead the charge for a new school in Hartford.
“It’s hard to put into words what we had to go through in Hartford to get to the point where we could even form a building committee,” he said. “We were up against an administration who was adamant against any funding of any kind for the town of Greenwich… We were able to bring back true results that the town of Greenwich has really never seen before. To do it for these kids and this community will always be one of my most greatest achievements.”