Ceremony breaks ground on new Fisher Hill Elementary School in Orange

  • Fisher Hill Elementary School students, staff and administrators, as well as state officials, officially broke ground on the new school during a ceremony Friday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Fisher Hill Elementary School students, staff and administrators, as well as state officials, officially broke ground on the new school during a ceremony Friday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Fisher Hill Elementary School students, staff and administrators, as well as state officials, officially broke ground on the new school during a ceremony Friday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 10/15/2021 5:09:18 PM

ORANGE — With several shovel tosses of dirt, the construction of the new Fisher Hill Elementary School has begun.

Fisher Hill Elementary School students, staff and administrators broke ground — although construction has already officially started — and celebrated the building of their new “shining star in the North Quabbin area.”

Superintendent Elizabeth Teahan-Zielinski said the school — which is slated to be finished in 2023 — has been in the works for a long time and will be a bright spot for the community.

“For our town, the building will be a focal point, a community center,” Teahan-Zielinski said to the crowd. “Where we can gather together for special events and celebrate the good work that you do and our staff does every single day.”

Teahan-Zielinski continued, saying the building shows Orange is dedicated to its elementary school students.

“This building represents a commitment to its residents and children,” Teahan-Zielinski said. “I’m confident this building will be completed on time and on or under budget.”

The work is projected to cost a total of $57.6 million, with a $45.7 million construction cost. A state grant will provide $33 million.

A three-story, roughly 50,000-square-foot addition will be built onto Fisher Hill Elementary School, while Dexter Park Innovation School will be demolished, so all students will move into the expanded and renovated building.

The need to replace or repair the 1950s-built Dexter Park Innovation School has been apparent since at least 2006, when the Massachusetts School Building Authority designated it one of nine Category 4 school buildings in the state, due to problems with the school’s boiler and heating system, a leaking roof and opaque windows, as well as overcrowding.

Principal Christopher Dodge said the groundbreaking represents the official start of the transition to a new state-of-the-art school.

“Today marks the official beginning of a journey that we’re going to take together,” Dodge said. “It’s a sign that this community believes in you.”

Dodge added that although current sixth-grade students will not be walking the halls of the new school, they too will benefit.

“It is the idea that we may not personally benefit from a new state-of-the-art building,” Dodge said. “We are a community and as a community, we afford opportunities to those that come after us.”

With that thought, several sixth-grade students stepped up to the podium to share their ideas for what the school should have.

“My hopes and dreams for the new school are to have a welcoming environment,” said sixth-grader Meg Murray, “where everyone can find their way and to have a safe and clean space for children to enjoy and feel secure.”

After the students spoke, they joined Dodge, Teahan-Zielinski and others with shovels to officially mark the beginning of construction.

Dodge said the ceremony was a great way to incorporate the students into the ceremony.

“It’s nice to celebrate with them because they’re what it’s all about,” Dodge said after the groundbreaking. “(The students) haven’t gotten the recognition they deserve. … If nothing else, a new school will symbolize that they matter.”

He added the new school will greatly improve the education of students and they are excited for it.

“It’s bigger than the facility; it’s a sign that education at the youngest level matters,” Dodge said. “I don’t think they know the impact it will have on them.”

State Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, said she is “completely excited” for the new school to be built. She added that investments into local schools benefit the town as a whole, even for those who are not directly involved.

Like Dodge, Teahan-Zielinski said it was great to get the students involved in the groundbreaking and that the community is excited for a new school.

“It’s a good day,” Teahan-Zielinski said, “and it’ll be an even greater day when it’s done.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.




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