“On behalf of our board of education, let me be the first to welcome you home,” Superintendent Robert Hunt told the Chagrin Falls community and Intermediate School students last Saturday. “This is a monumental day. It will become part of the history of our school district and add to the history of this site.”
The new and improved Chagrin Falls Intermediate School has been talked about for a number of years, but the serious discussions that led to the $29 million project began in late 2013 as school district officials determined what could be done to save the historic building that would reach its 100th birthday in 2014 on a 176-year-old education site.
After countless meetings, planning, re-planning and two years of construction, deconstruction and reconstruction, the Chagrin Falls community gathered in the parking lot on Philomethian Street last Saturday morning for a dedication and for a long-awaited welcome home.
It was just in time for the opening this week of the 2019-2020 academic year.
The weather proved favorable for the occasion as the sun shined down on the fresh pavement between the thick clouds. An inflated tiger’s head welcomed visitors to the school as the Chagrin Falls Marching Band cycled through some of Queen’s greatest hits, from “Bohemian Rhapsody” to “Fat Bottomed Girls,” between plays of their Alma Mater until commencing the event with the district fight song and the National Anthem.
A stream of large orange ribbon stretched before the curved window of the building’s old entrance to the historic auditorium, now the cafeteria – or a banquet hall for hosting events, which served as the backdrop as Mr. Hunt gave his opening remarks. Mr. Hunt’s words would serve as both opening remarks and the conclusion to the $29 million project supported by the community-voted $31.5 million school bond.
“This morning, Aug. 17, 2019, we come together to celebrate the next phase of construction on a site that has been used to educate young people for 176 years,” Mr. Hunt said.
He took the time to thank the dedicated organizations including, but not limited to, Gilbane Building Company, the Chagrin Falls Board of Education, Chagrin Falls Village Council and its committees, various clubs and organizations associated with the schools and village, the engineering services company Stantec and many others. “Obviously Chagrin Falls community is the biggest overriding supporter of our school district and made this possible,” Mr. Hunt said.
School board President Kathryn Garvey said the finished Intermediate School “is an example of what can be achieved with creativity and community support.
“This project was not an easy one, and it took us a while to find our bearings,” she continued. “The district evaluated many options to address our aging facilities over many years and with many school board members.”
With the district’s success of preserving the building’s history while creating a school that surpasses 21st century standards, Mrs. Garvey said the school is a “win-win-win” for students and their education needs, the community and its ability to enjoy the space for events and for the taxpayers who helped make the project possible.
“Our kids will learn the importance of history and preservation and the traditions at the Chagrin Falls schools,” Mrs. Garvey said. She addressed the crowd and concluded, “We wouldn’t be here today without your support.”
Erinn Grube, community representative and president pro tem of Village Council, also thanked the community, noting the efforts behind passing the bond issue that allowed the school’s welcome home.
“We passed this levy and made this project possible,” she said of voters in the areas of Chagrin Falls, South Russell, Bentleyville and parts of Moreland Hills that make up the exempted village school district. “Today we see the tangible results of that effort as the next chapter of the school is woven.”
Intermediate School Principal Sarah Read likened the school to home.
“There’s an expression that says a house is made of bricks and beams and a home is made of hopes and dreams, and so it is for schools as well,” she said. “I’m very proud to be here and to be a part of this special day. The opening of this building launches a new chapter for the Intermediate School. As we embrace its rich history and tradition, we are excited about our future and what it holds for our children and our community.”
Fourth-grader Lilia Cowan, 9, Fifth-grader Katie Rosner, 10, and Sixth-grader Jude Armstrong, 11, each took their turn to thank the community and say what they were most excited about regarding the new school, having not yet seen the inside themselves.
Lilia said she was excited for the three levels of the learning commons and the new books for the school. “It can be a place where everyone can relax,” she said. “I can’t wait to be a fourth-grader at the new school and read a lot of new books.”
Katie said she was “glad to have space to breathe,” noting that she felt like the students were a “school of fish” in the modular units in her first year as an intermediate student. “It feels like Christmas Eve or the night before my birthday. The feeling of suspense of what it looks like is just killing me,” she said. “I am rejoiced to make new beginnings, new stories and new memories.”
Jude said he was excited to experience the “best of the old with the new.” He noted his “delight” with the preservation of the school’s auditorium and gymnasium “so I can still feel the ambiance of the older school. I’m looking forward to this new learning environment that we can enjoy.”
The smell of grilling hot dogs, courtesy of the Chagrin Falls Dads' Club, wafted over the crowd as Mr. Hunt gave one last thank you before taking hold of a large pair of orange ceremonial scissors.
The crowd caught its breath before roaring into applause as Mr. Hunt cut the ribbon before the new school.
Students rushed to be the first to enter the school while parents followed close behind for the chance to tour the building.
As students’ shoes squeaked on the new gymnasium floors to break in the refurbished facility with a quick round of basketball, parents comingled with teachers and staff.
Rising fourth-grader Jack Shein, 9, toured the inside of the school and sat at one of the tables in the first-floor learning commons, Gradehouse 4, with his parents Monica and Steve Shein.
Jack said he was excited for the upcoming school year as a fourth-grader in the new school.
“I like it so far,” Jack said about the school. “It’s better than the last school” he said, noting that he liked the new school better because it is bigger than Gurney Elementary School.
When asked what he was most excited about for the new school, Jack said he liked the learning commons. Before touring the learning commons, Jack said he had seen the auditorium and the gym.
Mrs. Shien said of the school, “Oh, I think it’s amazing. I think it’s a great addition to the community from the community also. There are amazing resources for the teachers and the students.”
Mr. Shien said he was “really excited for the school, for all the interactive learning spaces that we’ve seen.”
The new building will hold about 400 students with a three-level gradehouse containing 18 classrooms for grades fourth, fifth and sixth, which surround the learning commons. In addition, the building houses offices, the gymnasium and auditorium, the Maker Space and science lab leading to a terrace that looks over the playground and so much more.
“This is a great day for our tight community. If you look at how this process happened over the last five years it really represents who we are,” Mr. Hunt said during the open house. “When a need is identified and communicated, this community steps forward and does what it needs to do for kids. I couldn’t be happier for the students and the staff.”
Ms. Read said she was excited for the community and the students to celebrate the school’s new beginning.
“I’m excited for our parents and our students and our intermediate school students to see the realization of all the things we’ve been talking about for two years,” Ms. Read said. “This is what it was all for, and I’m just really excited for them to see [the school] and to really take a moment and celebrate that.”