Construction at Cunniff School Nearing Completion, See Photos Inside New Building

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Charlie Breitrose Light pours into the cafetorium at the new Cunniff Elementary School. The room has a stage as well as a full kitchen to prepare lunch for students.

Watertown officials who got an inside look at the new Cunniff Elementary School gazed around in amazement at the nearly completed school building on Tuesday afternoon.

Watertown Public School officials broke ground on the school on Warren Street on June 24, 2020, and the school is expected to open in mid-October 2021.

Charlie Breitrose A view of the length of the new Cunniff Elementary School, with the cafetorium/gym entrance extending out at the end.

The tour included Town Councilors, members of the School Building Committee, the Planning Board, Town administrators and representatives from Hill International, the owner’s project manager firm.

Charlie Breitrose The group of Watertown officials that toured Cunniff School look around a classroom in the new school.

Town Council President Mark Sideris, who chairs the School Building Committee, recalls how the project began as a remodel and expansion, but when the committee saw the cost it decided it made sense to build a new school.

“Once we looked at what it cost with the renovation and expansion, the difference (between a new school) was $17 million,” Sideris said. “And we get a brand new building.”

Charlie Breitrose A look inside the Learning Commons, where large groups of students can gather and collaborate.

Town Council Vice President Vincent Piccirilli, who serves on the School Building Committee, said the school has been transformed since he last looked inside.

“The last time I saw it they were putting up sheetrock,” Piccirilli said. “Now, they are in the final stages of construction.”

Charlie Breitrose A two-story tall Cunniff sign on the wall in the entryway to the cafetorium and gymnasium at the nearly complete elementary school.

Tables have been placed right in the middle of the hallways between some of the classrooms.

“The idea is kids can come out and work on projects here,” Piccirilli said.

The three story building features large classrooms with lots of natural light, and which are color coded by grade levels. For instance, on the third floor, the blue rooms are for second and third grades, and fourth and fifth grade classrooms are orange.

Charlie Breitrose A table in the hallway at Cunniff Elementary School, where students will work on group projects.

On the end of the school farthest from the street the gymnasium and cafetorium sit next to each other. While inside the gym, one member of the tour noted “This is much bigger than the old one.”

Sideris said the school was designed to have an entrance near the gym and cafetorium so they can be used by the public in the evenings and on weekends.

Charlie Breitrose The art room at the new Cunniff School has plenty of light and colorful walls and ceilings.

Other spacious new facilities include the art room, which has cathedral ceilings with large windows, the library/media center, and the learning commons — a room where large group activities can take place.

Charlie Breitrose The new gymnasium at Cunniff Elementary School.

Long gull-winged structures have been erected in the parking lot, and along the border with the Ridgelawn Cemetery, which hold solar photovoltaic panels. Along with PV panels on the roof, they will provide enough electricity to power the entire school.

“The biggest operating expense for a school is utilities,” Picccirilli said. “With zero net energy it pays for itself.”

Charlie Breitrose The spider-shaped play structure at the playground outside the new Cunniff Elementary School.

The Cunniff will be the first of the Building for the Future projects to be completed. The program includes construction at three elementary schools in Watertown and a new high school. In February of 2022, students are scheduled to move into the new Hosmer Elementary School. Then the Lowell Elementary School will be renovated and expanded. School officials are also in the planning stages for a new Watertown High School.

Charlie Breitrose Words are carved into the wall of a nook where students can sit inside the new Cunniff Elementary School.

6 thoughts on “Construction at Cunniff School Nearing Completion, See Photos Inside New Building

  1. How is the construction of the Hosmer going? Is it on schedule? When is the planned opening?
    Charlie, thanks for keeping us informed on all these issues. You provide very informative details. The Watertown Tab covers very little Watertown news and seems to concentrate on surrounding towns.

  2. Will there be any “ operable” windows for some fresh air exchange on nice days or will the building air all be cycled thru air handlers?

  3. Demolishing the old Cunniff School in June 2020 and getting this new school built and scheduled to open in October 2021 is an impressive feat. Congrats to the School Building Committee and everyone else who was responsible for the planning and construction to make this happen. Adding in that this is a Net Zero energy use new school built without a tax over-ride makes it even more impressive. WATERTOWN STRONG….and proud of it!

  4. Hi, I’m a resident of Grandview, the street that lines the back of Cuniff. I was also thrilled by this project, however, all of the big beautiful trees that line the back of our yards here on Grandview were demolished. We did not have time to respond before this happened. We all lost much needed shade, cover, wind protection, and flooding mitigation with this loss. Although I applaud the fact that this was a ‘net zero’ project, I want to emphasize that to the residents of Grandview, this was not quite net zero. We lost a lot when all of our backyard cover and shade was removed. We used to feel like we had wooded backyards, and now it’s all open. Our AC bills will now be through the roof. If only the solar panel thing could have been designed such that we didn’t have lose the entire strip of trees along the back of Cuniff. I hope that for the next Watertown projects, residents get the chance to speak up to not have it all clear cutted like they did in the back of the school. Cuniff was a great win for the community, but losing all of those big beautiful trees in our backyards was quite a loss for those of us on Grandview. Thanks for listening!

  5. Please be careful on Grandview because the city of Watertown only put sidewalks on one side of the street. One sidewalk is not enough to handle the amount of pedestrian traffic when school is open the result is many people have to walk in the street. This decision was made by the town engineer when the street was done over last year. Ken Woodland and the council president were made aware of this problem but did nothing to correct it. Its only a matter of time before a pedestrian is hit by a car. There is too much traffic on this street for one sidewalk resulting in a safety issue. Seems like the city is trying to save money by putting only one sidewalk when they do the streets over.

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