BRANFORD — Town, Board of Education and Branford school officials took a walk Saturday around the just-completed new wing at Walsh Intermediate School to see what an overall $68.5 million project has bought the town so far.
They seemed pretty excited by what they saw — a state-of-the-art, tech-laden school building, only in use for a couple of months — built to foster exploration, collaboration and community and encourage learning.
It even still has that exciting, full-of-potential “new-school smell.”
“I’ve only seen a preview, and I couldn’t be more impressed,” said Board of Education Chairwoman Shannen Sharkey, who works as a teacher in Monroe, after a walk-through Saturday morning with Superintendent of Schools Hamlet Hernandez, Principal Raeanne Reynolds, First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove, representatives from construction manager Fusco Corp. and several others, including members of the town’s School Building Committee.
“What a great place to teach and learn,” Sharkey said, standing at the end of the tour in what now is the school administration office. It will eventually become the Board of Education office once all the work is done. “It’s amazing!”
The school features cutting-edge science classrooms, a library with huge windows and plenty of light, collaborative, lounge-like work spaces outside some classrooms and, in a nod to post-Sandy Hook safety, the number of each room visible out the exterior windows.
Many other technical and security features are not immediately visible.
Hernandez said that one of the goals for the building “was to be aspirational” — essentially to inspire or instill a desire to achieve a high level of success — and “kid-centered,” with “lots of collaborative space.”
Phase 1 of the Walsh project, which included some demolition, plus construction of the new wing to house most of the school’s functions while major work — which has now begun — goes on in existing areas of the school, “is probably very close to 100 percent complete,” Hernandez said.
Only a few minor “punch list” items remain, Hernandez said.
Phase 2 of the project is expected to be complete by August 2021 — 17 months from now. It includes demolition of the old school building’s classroom areas and existing media area. The current “cafetorium” — which has been replaced by a brand new cafeteria — will be converted into an auditorium with a sloped-floor.
The new cafeteria features a mural of the Thimble Islands on one wall, among other amenities.
Also during Phase 2, the locker rooms adjacent to cafetorium will be converted to practice rooms for band and orchestra programs. That area also will eventually house a permanent nurse’s office, a school-based health center and administrative offices for the school, Hernandez said.
While the school will continue to use the large gymnasium in the old section, the pool is to be closed through completion of the project, Hernandez has said. What are now split-level locker rooms will all be on one level when the project is done, Hernandez said.
Phase 1 included demolition of the old industrial arts section of the school, followed by construction of the all-new, three story academic wing, which also includes office space.