Union City’s Sara Gilmore School, located on Kerrigan Avenue between 16th and 17th Streets, is a magnet campus for gifted students in grades one through eight.
West New York welcomed a newly built Freshman Academy near its high school on Park Avenue, and a renovated Harry L. Bain Elementary School for grades pre-K through six.
West New York
If there was a contest for the most patriotic West New Yorker at the town's reopening ceremony for its Harry L. Bain Elementary School, Franck Pizzichillo would win.
"I came 100 miles from down the Jersey Shore to be here," said Pizzichillo -- who was part of the school's Class of 1955 -- before the event. "You can take the boy out of West New York, but you can't take the West New York out of the boy. Mentally, I have never left."
Pizzichillo is an amateur historian, with a strong West New York focus, sometimes helping Town Historian Patrick Cullen, and was interested in attending the ceremony.
The two-year $16.8 million renovation, funded by the N.J. Schools Development Authority, restored the school's exterior facade and roof, added air conditioning to each classroom, repainted the interior, repaired water-damaged interior spaces, and redid the windows to allow for extra natural lighting.
The campus serves around 715 students.
The new schools have already started classes for the new year.
"Our students will see a new, refurbished school,” said West New York Superintendent of Schools Clara Brito Herrera. “No longer with that institutional look. This is gorgeous. I was never able to read the name of Harry L. Bain clearly, as we can now. It's the old with the new."
"This is a project that we've been working on for so long," said West New York Board of Education President Adam Parkinson. "It is incredible what has been done with this building. A school district isn't just the Board of Education; it's not just the super of schools. It's the administrator, it’s the supervisors, it’s the custodial staff, it’s the maintenance staff as well."
Mayor Felix Roque attended the school after arriving in the U.S. from Cuba as a youth in the late 1960s. He remembered struggling to focus in class because Bain previously didn't have air conditioning.
"The classrooms were so hot, that I used to sit down and sweat," Roque said. "I couldn't concentrate, learning the English language. We're actually making a better environment for our children to get a better education."
"I would like to thank our school community, the students, parents, and teachers," said Principal Tara Mantineo. "Thank you for your support. We've been gone for our while and now we're back. You are the soul of our school."
The school was originally dedicated as Public School No. 6 in Jan. 1917. Bain was also the former location for the now-defunct West New York High School, per town records. In the 1950s, the school was dedicated in honor of Bain, a former vice principal.
Earlier in the day, the district opened the new West New York Freshman Academy. Incoming ninth graders will go there before heading to nearby Memorial High School in succeeding grades. The Schools Development Authority paid $14 million to purchase the building for the academy in 2012. Prior to that, it was St. Joseph’s High School.
After the purchase, West New York’s school district paid for new windows, paint, fire alarms, and lighting, among other things.
Later on that day, Union City officials hosted a community opening for the Sara Gilmore School, located on Kerrigan Avenue between 16th and 17th Streets. Free food, rides, and musical performances stretched a few blocks as residents celebrated the $29 million project's debut. It was funded by guaranteed municipal bonds issued to the district.
The school is now a magnet campus for gifted students in grades one through eight. Gilmore’s original building at 815 17th St. is now combined with the new building.
The building features a multi-media center, a greenhouse roof, STEM room, and solar panels. A full grand opening for the school will happen later this fall, according to Superintendent of Schools Silvia Abbato.
The building is the 11th new school built during Mayor Brian Stack’s administration. Attendees included Stack, his board of commissioners, Abbato, and Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner.
Turner was there because the reopening marked the end of a 20-year plus shared-services agreement allowing Union City to house its gifted students in the Woodrow Wilson School, which is physically located in Weehawken.
Turner did not respond to a followup call to see what the Wilson school will be used for in the future.
“No matter what school you go to in Union City,” Stack said, “you're guaranteed to get a great education.”
“The construction is beautiful,” he added. “But what’s more important is what happens inside.”
Stack finished by urging local parents to “always be involved in your child's education, no matter if they're a straight-A student or they're struggling.”
Abbato told the audience that she once taught at Gilmore “at a time where there was no cafeteria, no gym, no library. Now wait until you see the tour, what a beautiful facility it’s going to be.”
“We are a nation of immigrants,” she said. “And as immigrants, the best gift that we can give our family is an education. It is our pleasure to be part of this beautiful, state-of-the-art school.”
“There’s no place just as special as Union City, where everybody is family,” said Principal Geraldine Perez. “To anyone who lives in this neighborhood, we want to thank you for welcoming us back, and we are very honored and privileged to be back here.”
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