Saturday August 17, 2013

BELLOWS FALLS -- The upcoming academic year will be the first in which Bellows Falls Middle School students can enjoy the complete renovation of their building.

Trumbull-Nelson Construction Company was hired for the $10.5 million project, which started in April 2012 and was mostly finished by March 2013. Principal Heidi Lucas-Moccia a few things will need some more work but it is all extremely minor. She said the school's roughly 30 teachers are scheduled to be back Thursday, Aug. 22, and its 248 enrolled students' first day of school is Wednesday, Aug. 28.

"I think that the building came out wonderful," she said in her new office. "All the classrooms, by the time school starts, will have their up and running SMART Boards and will be equipped with technology. ... I think a nice, clean, renovated building with up-to-date technology is pretty exciting."

[SLIDESHOW: Take a full tour of BFMS.]

Lucas-Moccia, entering her third year as principal, said a classroom was split in half and divided into offices for her and Assistant Principal Dale Chenette, who is also going into his third year at BFMS. Several other classrooms were also renovated and the entryway to the four-story building is new. Lucas-Moccia said she has shown families and community residents around the building and loves seeing the expressions of their faces.

"I think (Trumbull-Nelson) did a great job. They have been great to work with," she told the Reformer before taking the reporter and photographer on a walking tour of the school Thursday. "They were very good at coming to meet me halfway or doing what I asked or relocating things and I was always up to date. Every Wednesday, we had a construction meeting and some days I'd be there for a couple of hours, some days I'd be there for five hours. But I knew everything that was going on in the building."

Christopher Kibbe, the superintendent of the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union, expressed sentiment similar to Lucas-Moccia's.

"It's great," he said in his WNESU office. "Who would have thought that building could look so good?"

Kibbe said the original school was constructed in the 1920s but had to be rebuilt after it burned down. He also said the project was paid for through a bond.

"The state of Vermont buys bonds every year, municipal bonds for all the municipalities that are bonding projects," he explained. "Basically, you're borrowing money at a set interest rate and then each year over the life that the bond gets paid back you pay a portion of the principal plus the interest."

Lucas-Moccia said during the tour all students will now have personal lockers and the bathrooms were redone. Also, the plywood covering the windows in the auditorium has been removed and flowers have been planted outside. The cafeteria also now has its own bathrooms.

But perhaps the most eye-catching renovation is the new entrance to the building and the pathway leading up to it. The inside of the front entrance includes two walls, in near the receptionist's office, that appear to have been bejeweled by the subcontractor hired by Trumbull-Nelson. Lucas-Moccia said those walls are quite popular.

The start of the previous school year was postponed twice due to the renovations. The first day of school was originally slated for Aug. 28 and then rescheduled for Monday, Sept. 10. But failure to pass an inspection forced Kibbe and Lucas-Moccia to move the date to Monday, Sept. 17.

Kibbe said at the time there were several inspections needed to get a certificate of occupancy from the Vermont Department of Public Safety. He said the sprinkler system passed inspection but the fire alarm system initially did not.

Lucas-Moccia also said there were some structural issues that had to be dealt with.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.