This is the third official groundbreaking to take place in the last three months, starting with the library in January, Huber Street School in February and finally, Clarendon School on March 10.
In a landscape in which construction has become a common site from Castle Road to Flanagan Way, local school officials rolled out the rhetoric and kids to surround the event with nostalgia and pomp.
Poems and songs filled the Clarendon School auditorium, punctuating the spaces between the triumphant speech-making. The schools superintendent, Clarendon School's principal, the president of the school board and the mayor of the town all issued their words of wisdom and hope as part of the celebration.
In helping to recall the history of the uniquely constructed school, officials invited guests who had helped shape the school's history, including former Schools Superintendent Arthur Couch, under whose reign the school had been constructed in 1970.
In opening the festive occasion, Principal Ralph Merlo honored his teaching staff, claiming they helped make it one of the finest schools in the state.
"It has been open 31 years and it was the vision of Arthur Coach, who is responsible for its innovative design and creating its innovative environment. This school emphasizes the creative process and is part of a community of learning."
In beginning the process of expansion, Merlo said, the school district seeks to continue that tradition of learning and improve upon the school's successes of the past.
Schools Superintendent Constantino Scerbo told the audience of well-wishers that he recalled the time when students carried their books in pillow cases as they made their way from the old Clarendon School (located where the current Elms senior citizens building is) to the new school about two blocks away. He said school officials had taken trips to Delaware to look over working programs that were adopted in Clarendon School, innovative programs that included team teaching, movable walls and creative reading.
The national attention Clarendon School attracted was one of the factors that influenced William Millevoi to move to Secaucus, said Millevoi, the president of the school board. Millevoi noted that the school and its programs had received significant attention in the educational journals. He said residents gave the school a vote of confidence when they passed the bond issue last year, and he hoped those same people would continue their support in voting to approve this year's budget. Last month, the board introduced a budget that showed a $1.4 million spending increase.
In summing up the string of accolades, Mayor Dennis Elwell, said the appointed school board of the 1960s made some critical decisions when developing the concept of Clarendon School, facing challenges with new ideas.
"Secaucus is evolving," Elwell said. "This expansion is only part of that. In six short years, when the population of these schools reaches the middle school/high school, it will take a commitment from the board and the residents to meet the need there."
What will be built?
Clarendon School, designed in the 1960s, is a group of round buildings, or pods, with connected passageways. From above, the pattern looks remarkably like Star Trek's spaceship, with one large round building, two groups of three pods to the west and two solo pods to the east. Designers of the original building never envisioned a need to expand, so none of these pods structurally support second floors. One of the solo pods served as Board of Education offices for years, but was converted to classroom space two years ago. Under the proposal, this pod would be connected to the rest of the school, and an additional more traditional building would be constructed in the lawn area on the west side of the existing school. This section would also be connected by passageway to other pods.
This building will contain rooms for speech, music, science, art, computer, and ESL classes. It will also have a classroom, a resource room, a janitor's room, boys' and girls' bathrooms, and a satellite kitchen. Unlike the existing buildings, the new building would be constructed so that if the school needed even more space in the future, a second floor could be added.
Architect Jamil Faridy said the external work can be done over the summer when construction will least affect school activities, with the interiors completed before the addition is attached to the rest of the school.
Partitioning of the rooms will allow school officials to expand or reduce the size of the rooms as needed. The addition will also provide Clarendon School with lunch space for the first time. Students currently use the gym for lunch.