The sounds of children rang through the hallways of Hoboken Charter School once again on Wednesday morning, when students filed into newly renovated Washington Street classrooms 13 months after they hurriedly escaped a three-alarm fire.
A total of 198 students in kindergarten through eighth grade returned to 713 Washington St. after a lengthy and expensive renovation period during which they relocated to a building in the Jersey City Heights formerly used by the St. Ann’s School.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer joined Executive Director Dierdra Grode and Student Body President Elizabeth Bondulich to cut the ribbon on the renovated building. It now boasts 40 percent more space due to two additional floors, and a finished roof space that will ultimately be used for passive recreation and horticultural education.
“Ash may have covered the halls, but it didn’t cover our hearts.” -- Elizabeth Bondulich
The massive redevelopment, which required continued waivers from the city to allow construction to proceed throughout the night and on weekends, was funded mainly through donations. (Hoboken Charter also has a high school, located on the corner of Fourth and Garden Streets, that was not affected by the fire.)
Also joining the mayor and school representatives was Henry Gomez, Hewlett Packard’s chief marketing and communications officer. In the wake of the fire, Hoboken residents employed by Hewlett Packard (HP) had implored the company to assist in the recovery effort, and the company responded with a $425,000 technology grant which was used to purchase laptops and servers for the school.
“When I was in school, technology meant a light bulb or a radio,” he said. “Now it’s everything, and kids have to spend time with it and learn to use it so that they can do their best in the real world.”
‘Everything is new’
In addition to the two new floors, most of the building’s interior has been fully renovated, to the point where children were commenting on Wednesday how “the entire school looked white.”
The children, many of whom were already utilizing the laptops donated by HP, were incredibly excited to be back in Hoboken.
“I like this new building because now we can discover new stuff,” said Coby Kriegel, a first grader.
Older children described how the past year has been difficult, but that because they are part of a strong community, they were able to pull through.
“Everybody’s happy to be back. You can see smiles on everyone’s faces,” said Andrea Cirino, a fourth grader. “This was very tragic for us. We were only in third grade at the time, but we learned that even when things go wrong, you can learn from them.”
Other students said that the trials and tribulations of a year in Jersey City pushed them to actually do better in school.
“It was hard but it was fun,” said Mihael Rosenberg, also a fourth grader. “I feel like I got much better at math in third grade.
Mihael also was impressed with the school’s renovated new digs.
“Things have changed around here, that’s for sure,” he said. “I think it's going to be an enjoyable year.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org