By Linda Conner Lambeck Updated 6:37 pm EST, Monday, November 26, 2018
STRATFORD — The blond brick facade is familiar — but that is where similarities end between the Stratford High School the students left before Thanksgiving break and the one they entered Monday morning.
The King Street campus, under construction since today’s seniors were freshmen, is now open. The nearly century-old “North Parade” campus — except for the gym, media center and shop wing — is now the off-limits hard-hat zone.
“It’s a little overwhelming,” Principal Jack Dellapiano declared, standing in the fresh and spacious foyer of the school’s new entryway. “This will enhance learning, absolutely.”
Monday signaled the end of phase one of a project that is not expected to be complete until the fall of 2020. Much of the 1925 school building will be knocked down this spring to make way for a new auditorium, culinary suite and art and music classes.
When complete, the town will be left with a $126 million, 233,250 square-foot high school, big enough for 1,115 students. Currently there are 963 students who will be joined by 50 alternative education students in the completed structure.
As of now, however, students and staff can enjoy new technology, a cafeteria that looks like a food court, and three floors of large, pristine, climate-controlled classrooms. No more broken steam pipes.
There is now a college and career center, something that schools Superintendent Janet Robinson said the school never had the space for, until now.
The science labs are state of the art. The old ones hadn’t been upgraded for ages. And security in the new building exceeds the recommendations of the Connecticut School Safety Infrastructure Council.
Robinson was superintendent in Newtown when the deadly Sandy Hook shooting occurred and came to Stratford when the design had already been cast on what would become the Victoria Soto School — the town’s last new school building, completed in 2015.
“I was going ‘Whoa, wait a minute,” said Robinson, who greatly enhanced security at the new Stratford High to include ballistic glass, and a security check-in before visitors enter the building.
Each classroom door is kept locked, opened only with a key or touch pad codes.
On this first day, students had a delayed opening and spent extra time in homeroom to learn locker combinations and get acclimated to their surroundings.
“It’s like we are all freshmen again, right guys?” Diane DeStefano, a teacher, called out to students who were helping her lug empty cardboard boxes to her car. There were a lot of boxes.
They lined most classrooms and common spaces. Teachers packed before break then found them in their newly assigned classrooms on Monday.
“It’s a little overwhelming,” said Jamie Gildea, a math teacher with 16 years in the district, as she viewed the bright new cafeteria.
For the opening, there was a guest chef cooking up stir fry. The made-to-order bar will change daily. A pasta bar was promised for Tuesday, a Ramen bar on Wednesday.
In areas like the new college and career center, there is flexible seating, hook-ups for yet-to-be-installed smart board monitors and removable walls.
What will eventually become a senior lounge opposite the main office is now occupied by music classes until music rooms in the old part of the building are rebuilt.
Access to the gym and media center on the North Parade side is via a skywalk. Once complete, the corridor will stretch 900 feet from one end to the other, said Dellapiano. Already there is an echo.
Just over the bridge in the older part, the new media center was built last summer, replacing several classrooms. One of the replaced classrooms was where Ashley Pine taught English. Pine called the new space surreal.
“But it’s the same view I had out the window,” she said.
Since the addition was built over the high school’s only outdoor athletic space, all practice now occurs a mile away at Penders Field.
Robinson said there will be an official ribbon cutting in the near future to give the public a chance to see the addition, which was designed by Antinozzi and Associates and built by Turner Construction.