Hundreds of students, parents, and teachers gathered in the school gymnasium for the ceremony - a practice whose days are now numbered - to celebrate the beginning of the construction of the structure.
"We've made due with inadequate facilities for 27 years," said High School Principal Pat Impreveduto. "I'm glad we're now moving into the 21st century."
"I have a great love for music, so this has particular significance for me," said Father Joseph Pietropinto, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, during last Saturday's invocation.
The school showcased some of the future beneficiaries and contributors to the performing arts center with performances by the high school band, who played "Festival Prelude;" and the high school chorus, who sang "There Will be a New Day," and "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Speakers included Impreveduto, Middle School Principal Fred Ponti, School Superintendent Constantino Scerbo, Board of Education President Michael Schlemm, and Mayor Dennis Elwell.
Middle School student Melissa Lawson read a poem she wrote, "Through the Years," about the path to high school.
New auditorium, new classrooms
In addition to the 1,000-seat auditorium, to be completed in 2005, the school has already begun construction on nine new classrooms in the area of the building that used to house the school's now-defunct shop programs.
"We used to be a comprehensive high school," said Impreveduto. "But shop has gone by the wayside because students lost interest."
Electrical shop was canceled seven years ago, woodworking, three years ago and auto shop, last year. The old shop areas will be converted into seven regular-sized classrooms and two smaller ones.
"They had to gut the whole area," said Impreveduto. "They're building concrete walls."
Impreveduto added that the new classrooms are meant to be completed by September.
The existing six science labs will be upgraded and a new one will be added.
"We're upgrading the six labs with all state-of-the-art equipment and adding another lab," Impreveduto said.
According to Business Administrator Edward Walkiewicz, the idea of adding an auditorium was part of the original plans for the high school, almost 30 years ago.
"Because of budget issues, it never got built," Walkiewicz said. The town approved a bond referendum for the $14 million projects in 2002, $4 million of which came from a state grant.
A new age for assemblies
Couch, for whom the auditorium is named, served as Secaucus' school superintendent for 20 years before his death in 2002. With 34 years experience in education and 27 years in the Secaucus school system, he established many programs that are still running.
Impreveduto anticipates that the new auditorium will change the entire dynamic of the school's music and drama programs. Theatrical performances are currently held in the cafeteria, or cafetorium, as the performing arts faculty calls it.
"It was designed for lunch, where you want to dull the sound," said music teacher and choral leader Lyle Leeson. "But for performance, you want to amplify the sound. It's going to make it much better for performances, after using a cafetorium for all these years, to have a real auditorium acoustically developed to carry sound."
Musical productions are also hampered by the cafetorium because of the time involved with setting up and breaking down chairs, music stands, scenery, instruments and any other equipment needed for a show, because the room needs to be cleared for each day's lunch period.
The addition will not only provide a new location for performances, but will also allow graduation to take place in the school.
Leeson estimates that there are six band and choral programs per year, including winter and spring concerts. But those are just the basics, Leeson said. The drama club puts on four performances a year, and honor society inductions, awards assemblies, the junior ring ceremonies and even town events will be held in the new auditorium.