BELLOWS FALLS - Rockingham School Board Chairman Jim McAuliffe has been waiting five years to cut the ribbon in front of the Bellows Falls Middle School.
The school board first started talking about the need to renovate the historic 1926 building in the center of the village in 2008 and voters approved the $10.5 million bond for the project in 2011. Since then there have been hours of meetings, plans and drawings to approve and a full school year's worth of construction that had students and staff having to move around the building as workers moved ahead on the work.
Sunday morning McAuliffe, along with school and district officials, engineers and construction workers and a handful of parents officially opened the new building and welcomed in a new era for the 87-year-old building.
"This was the right decision for this school and for this community," McAuliffe said. "It's really been a journey, but most importantly, it's been a successful journey and it's so great to be here today."
The ribbon cutting was held Sunday to coincide with Bellows Falls Union High School alumni weekend.
There are still a few items for workers to complete in the school but the project is largely finished and at the celebration Sunday McAuliffe pointed out that the massive project came in right at budget and a few months ahead of schedule.
"We have to thank the taxpayers of Rockingham," he said. "Even in these tough economic times they supported this project."
McAuliffe recognized all of the work that went into developing the project, into selling it to the voters, and then into seeing it through.
Originally the Rockingham Board talked about a $3- to $5-million project to replace the outdated electrical, ventilation and heating systems in the building, but the decision was made to almost completely renovate the four story building.
BFMS Principal Heidi Lucas-Moccia acknowledged that it had been a stressful and challenging school year with construction workers moving throughout the building during the school days.
The school's opening was delayed due to problems with the fire alarm system and Lucas-Moccia said one of the greatest challenges was keeping the staff and students informed of emergency procedures and evacuation routes.
On Sunday she enthusiastically held one of the scissor handles as the ribbon was cut and the end of the project was marked.
"It's very exciting to see this," she said. "This whole project was done to improve the educational experiences of the kids and that's what we've done."
Work has been winding down and throughout the school the staff and students this year have been amazed, she said, at the hallways and classrooms.
"Already we see a new attitude here," she said. "It's great to be here in a nice, new clean building."
This is the second renovation project Lucas-Moccia has been a part of as a principal. She was working at Williamstown Middle School when that school was undergoing renovations.
There are still a few days before this school year officially ends and when the students and staff return in September all of the construction workers will be gone and the Bellows Falls Middle School will be ready for a new school year.
Windham Northeast Superintendent Chris Kibbe also said it felt good to cut the ribbon Sunday and move beyond the renovation of the middle school. The work, and decisions that go along with managing a school of about 250 students while a construction project is taking place, have been a big part of Kibbe's life this year and like everyone else at Sunday's ceremony he was looking forward to next year.
"It's very nice to be on this side of the project," he said. "The community backed us up on this and we're really happy to be able to open this school for them today."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext. 279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.