NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk on Wednesday held a“topping off ceremony” to celebrate its progress in building its first new school in decades, the Ponus Ridge STEAM Academy.
A beam signed by the children and adults of the Ponus community, and by the officials who helped bring the project to fruition, was lifted into place after a few remarks noting the achievements.
Video by Harold F. Cobin at end of story
“There are a lot of reasons why a new school is important. It happens to be that Norwalk has not built a new school for 41 years, and I think Lyndon Johnson was President when the last school was built. I talked to our new teachers about this and some of them weren’t even born, right?” Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said at the morning event.
The Ponus Ridge STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) Academy is being created with an addition turning Ponus Ridge Middle School into a K-8 facility. The most recent cost estimate for construction is $45.5 million, $2.14 million more than planned; the Board of Education recently postponed work on Cranbury Elementary as part of shifting funds around to cover shortfalls in its historic new school construction plans, which include a new school on Ely Avenue and renovations of the existing Columbus Magnet School and Jefferson Elementary School.
In its first year, the Ponus addition will house the Ponus middle school students while the lower school is renovated, Adamowski said. In its second year, it will house Jefferson students while their school is renovated.
“This will put into the dark pages of Norwalk history the situation at Jefferson that has existed too long,” Adamowski said, referring to 10 “deteriorating” portable classrooms and “terrible” overcrowding.
Ponus is the middle school with the highest number of high needs students and the STEAM academy will raise achievement scores, he said, explaining that “when you are in a themed school like STEAM it matters how many years you are in the school. The research tells us that the consistency of introducing and reinforcing these concepts year after year over a nine-year period of time to a school does bring students to a much higher level of student achievement.”
Adamowski also took note of Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis, and the role he played as Facilities Committee Chairman.
“At the end of the day, this all comes down to leadership and somebody being willing to carry the heavy water and get things done in a tenacious fashion. Mike was the spark that lit this fire. I want to thank him for all of his efforts because I don’t think we would be here today without Mike Barbis,” Adamowksi said.
Barbis struggled to remember the origins of the plan, and settled on Spring of 2014, under then- Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera.
“It’s kind of hard to believe” it’s been so long, he said, noting that a facilities feasibility study completed in January 2015 was the “cornerstone” of the effort.
“It’s great to see all that planning has come to fruition,” Barbis said. “This is the first of many projects but obviously the first is most important.”
It took a “true partnership” between Norwalk Public Schools and the Board of Education to build a world class facility for Norwalk’s youth, and “while the city of Norwalk is making an historic investment in our school system, in our school buildings, we are very, very, proud that we are able to do that,” Mayor Harry Rilling said, asserting that Norwalk is “combining a world class facility with world class teachers and staff there’s no doubt in my mind that we are doing everything that we can for the children of Norwalk, so that they can make the change in the world that we all so desperately need.”