Duval third-grade teacher Danielle Silva and members of her family sounded like they were having a lot of fun as Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Szymaniak was guiding a tour through the building for five School Committee members and the media on Monday, Aug. 20.
The tour was meant to show what physical changes had been made to four of the district’s four schools — Conley, Duval, Indian Head and WHRHS — following the closure of Hanson’s Maquan Elementary School.
The laughter emanating from Silva’s classroom prompted a visit as she was working to prepare the room for the first day of school on Wednesday, Aug. 29.
“Come on in,” Silva called out to them. “We’ve been here since early, so they’re getting a little tired now,” she said of her son and daughter’s efforts.
As she spoke with the school officials, her kids were filling welcome back goodie bags for her new students and making name cards for desks as her mother in-law, a former teacher in the Bridgewater schools for 36 years, was creating a chart on a flip-pad at the classroom easel.
The goodie bags proved to be an interesting idea to the committee members.
“That’s wicked cool,” said School Committee member Fred Small, who chairs the facilities subcommittee.
“It’s like a little welcome, it has a little poem in it,” she said, explaining that one of her college roommates, now a teacher in Maryland uses the poem as a welcome gift. “‘Sharing is caring,’ is what I say. [The poem says] if they make a mistake it’s OK so you give them an eraser. [There’s] notepaper — stuff like that.”
Silva said she and her husband divide the shopping for their interests seasonally.
“He gets car parts,” she said. “He’s into cars and I’m obviously into school … so stuff comes in boxes for me, they come for him, it works out.”
Small was impressed that Silva’s children were in to help their mom.
“That’s what makes Whitman-Hanson what it is,” he said of Silva’s work. “We’re here and we’re seeing it.”
The tour began at Conley, where Facilities Director Ernest Sandland and Principal Karen Downey talked about the new security doors all three elementary schools were having installed as well as a new addition to Conley’s outdoor classroom, funded by the PAC and a new computer lab funded by the annual talent show.
Classrooms have been cleaned with five coats of wax applied to floors and SJ Services will be moving to hallways and cafeterias before school starts, according to Sandland.
The outdoor classroom will now include a freestanding structure with a corrugated roof to be used as a teaching space, Downey said.
“Everything that has to do with this outdoor classroom is done through our PAC,” she said. “Through our basket auction and our Fun Run we’ve been able to put all of these plants and tables. When we began this two or three years ago, there was nothing in here.”
Landscaping and donated materials have created a space where students can go outside and learn more. So far, “well over $50,000” has been raised and spent on the project, with the new wheelchair-accessible structure alone costing between $14,000 and $15,000 for materials. A mid-September completion is anticipated, weather permitting.
“Kids need to be outside and you can be inspired in a lot of different ways,” she said.
Inside, Downey said the computer lab is another point of pride for the school.
“This is our baby,” she said. “If the outdoor classroom was a spot that our PAC supported and paid for, this spot has a direct relation to our staff.”
Proceeds from between three and five talent shows run by staff volunteers was used to transform the traditional computer lab’s rows of desks to a room where sectional tables on wheels can be used to teach and hold meetings in a variety of ways. It is served by a Chromebook cart for each grade and is adjacent to the school’s library.
“We wanted it to be a collaborative space, a space where you don’t have to just have a computer going but you could use the whiteboards and use the interactive board and tie into the library,” she said.
At Duval, aside from the new security entrance and Silva’s work in setting up her classroom, School Committee members also examined the new space North River Collaborative will be using in a space for special needs programs that the YMCA program had used.
“It’s going to be a very nice classroom for them and they’ve got the playground out back,” Sandland said. Bathrooms for the children are in the hall nearby and there will be sinks in the classrooms.
The school’s Rinnai on-demand water heaters will also be the subject of the company test study on how they are used in a school district, according to Sandland. No other school district in Massachusetts uses on-demand water heaters, which save the district money on both water usage and energy.
“It’s going to show that, number one, we’re not wasting water,” he said of the study. “The hot water heaters we used to have, if I’m in here during a snowstorm, they’d be running. If nobody’s here, these units are not being used.”
Indian Head School
Perhaps no school entrance has changed as noticeably as Indian Head.
New security doors open into what had been the assistant principal’s office, where district IT Director Chad Peters was helping connect phone lines at the security window where visitors must check in. The former reception area is being used as an office for the school psychologist and the window will be covered by a shade.
Principal Jill Dore-Cotreau’s office has been finished and she was settling in on Monday.
The added population of pupils in kindergarten through grade two transferred over from Maquan demanded the addition of bathrooms to accommodate the younger children and provide sufficient privacy. Sinks feature motion-activated faucets.
The changes are also notable outside where a new playground — with a spongy rubberized ground surface — has been installed and parking has been adjusted to provide a blacktop play area with a basketball court for which portable backstops will be used that can be stored away for plowing in winter. The spongy playground surface is pitched to permit rainwater runoff, but also absorbs water and runs it off through the bottom, Sandland said.
The old basketball court is now a picnic area with green metal tables and seats.
A tree-shaped climbing apparatus was manufactured in Germany and the support pole is anchored in six feet of cement.
“This was six months in the planning with teachers and the community,” Sandland said. “We had a 12-foot fence here, but we ended up taking it down and cutting the pipes to reduce it to a six-foot fence. If we left that 12-foot fence it would have felt like a prison.”
W-H Regional High School
The moving of the Maquan preschool to the high school has created some dramatic changes inside and out at that school, too.
The new inner ring driveway for preschool parent drop-offs is almost complete, with the boulder unearthed during construction placed in the lawn as the school’s new “pride rock” as Szymaniak calls it. Lines were slated to be painted on the new driveway on Tuesday, Aug. 21 with sidewalk repairs to be finished Wednesday, Aug. 22.
Hanson Highway Department helped move the rock.
“We’re going to paint it,” Szymaniak said. “Different clubs and organizations are going to paint it as an expression of pride.”
Sandland said the rock also dictated where the driveway’s drainage system would be anchored.
Inside, work on the doors separating the preschool from the rest of the building was nearly complete. Card access doors will limit who is permitted into the preschool where identifying signage will be placed.
“If I had known there were so many I would have brought more brushes,” joked a worker varnishing cubbies in the preschool hallway.
Classrooms were ready for furnishings to be moved in and each room’s bathrooms — complete with the shortest toilet one has ever seen — as well as sinks and cabinets have been installed.
Outside the preschool area, a playground is still being worked on.
An alcove lined with trophy cases will be the preschool director’s office, with the trophies — some dating back to 1920 — to be put into storage or display in the athletics department.
Sandland said the hardest part of the construction projects proved to be coordinating work schedules and available finances to the scheduling demands of the construction trades.
“It’s not a secret,” he said. “It’s a fact. We’re in a great economy and trying to get people to come out and give you prices in May, when we get the money approved, they’ve already got their work lined up for the summer.”
Once the physical work began the challenge shifted to cutting into wall slabs to install the doors without marring the high school building that has been a MSBA model school for new construction since it was built.
“Making it look like we didn’t cut the slabs,” he said.
And then there was that rock.
“That was just ridiculous,” Sandland said. “Where that rock was is where the catch basin is … so they had to go down further.”