With golden shovels lined up in a patch of dirt outside the Butler Building at Ridge Street Elementary School, a dozen Blind Brook administrators and affiliates shuffled their way behind them.
Simultaneously, they lifted the shovel blades that were planted in the earth, exposing piles of soil on the heads, and a crowd of Rye Brook officials, school parents and children cheered. On Thursday, June 20, construction of the $44.7 million bond projects officially began with a traditional groundbreaking ceremony—right on schedule.
Blind Brook residents overwhelmingly passed the capital project bond through a referendum in October 2017 with a 77% approval rate. Since then, architects crafted designs for the major projects at both Blind Brook campuses, which were in turn submitted to the State Education Department and underwent an expedited review process. Now that bidding went smoothly, contractors were hired and materials were ordered, major aspects of the project are starting.
“This particular project has been on the docket for about 12 years. We started thinking about it in 2007, but it kept getting deferred,” Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Ross said during the ceremony. “When this is all done, we’ll have facilities here that will be able to serve the current generation of students and succeeding generations of students in this century. You’re going to be amazed by this construction when it’s done. It’s a wonderful design and we’re all set to go now.”
The groundbreaking ceremony was held at Ridge Street School because that’s where the bulk of the work will be seen. According to Board of Education member Jeffrey Diamond, modernization has been vastly needed.
Diamond has lived in Rye Brook for 30 years and remembers enrolling his oldest son in kindergarten a few years after moving into town. Even then, it was clear that Ridge Street needed a little updating, he said.
“This has been a long time coming,” Diamond said. “If you look at how overwhelmingly the community passed the bond, I think everyone understands, whether your kids are in school or out and graduated, that it’s time and overdue. There has basically been no resistance, only support, and in this day and age that’s a pretty strong statement.”
Through the $44.7 million bond, the Ridge Street School Butler Building, a temporary unit built in the 1960s, and the kitchen within will be demolished and replaced with a wing with modern amenities. The new two-story structure will connect the elementary school’s wings in a more comprehensive style and provide 10 new classrooms with hallways designed to foster a more communal atmosphere.
Toward the rear of the school, construction will facilitate a new cafetorium—a cafeteria and auditorium hybrid—that will be able to seat up to 325 students during meal service and 350 people when converted into a theater.
According to Ridge Street Principal Tracy Taylor, in the past they’ve been limited and hesitant in planning activities where an auditorium is needed because such events required use of the Middle School/High School campus. With this new space, she anticipates more assemblies and creative events and activities.
“We’ve been so excited about these plans, and we’re excited that so many students, families and the community are going to benefit from this,” Taylor said. “I almost can’t believe it’s finally happening. It’s been a process, at first we were shocked, then it was a little surreal, then a little bit of stress at the end of the year while all the teachers have been packing up their classrooms to move around. But now, it’s just pure excitement.”
“Now that we’ve broken ground, there’s no going back. All of this has to happen,” added Associate Principal Lori Cutrone with a smile.
Technically, some preparation for the massive Ridge Street School changes has already ensued. To make up for the loss of classrooms that construction implies next school year, the district renovated a section of the basement to be used as an enrichment center.
The center, comprised of two new classrooms, lots of windows, access to the outdoors and a shared bathroom, will host art and STEAM classes for the 2019-20 school year. After that, the space will be converted into administrative offices.
Ross said work immediately started behind the school and next week the public will start seeing construction in front. By the middle of August, they expect demolition of the Butler Building to begin.
“There’s still a lot of unknowns in terms of what September is going to look like, I think we will get a better sense of the specifics of the school year when things actually start getting ironed out this summer,” Taylor said. “Our job is to make sure that it’s school as usual in the fall, with just a few exciting things going on in the background. We don’t know what the terrain will look like right now, but there will be all sorts of good stuff.”
Within the next few weeks, construction at Blind Brook Middle School/High School will also begin. Comparatively, it’s a much smaller project, accounting for roughly 15% of the $44.7 million bond.
When the projects are complete, the Middle School/High School will receive a new technology space—a fabrication lab—in the empty space between the two gyms. The lab will contain cutting-edge technology, such as 3D printers, along with ample open table space. The idea is to keep the new center flexible so it can be updated as technology inevitably continues to advance.
In addition, construction will build a connecting corridor with lockers adjacent to the gyms so the entire layout of the building will come full circle.
If all goes according to plan, like it has so far, it’s anticipated that all major projects will be complete and ready for use by September 2020.