Public Wowed During First Look at New Cunniff School, Officials Celebrate With Ribbon Cutting

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Charlie Breitrose The public gathered outside the new Cunniff Elementary School before open house on Tuesday.

The first impression of the new Cunniff Elementary School may have best been captured by the boy who yelled, “Oh, my God!” loud enough to be heard despite the fact he was in a car with all the windows up.

A few hundred Watertown residents celebrated the opening of the new elementary school on Warren Street on Tuesday afternoon. After a few remarks and a ribbon cutting, the visitors got a chance to walk around the new school.

Erin Condon, the mother of a third grader at Cunniff, gave the school good reviews.

“It’s incredible. I am really impressed,” Condon said. “It’s more than I expected.”

Charlie Breitrose Students and parents look around the hallways of the new Cunniff School, which are built to be learning spaces, too.

Susanne Brueggerman, who has a kindergartner and third grader at the school, said she his happy for the teachers and the students who will be making use of the new school. She added that she appreciated the work done by Principal Mena Ciarlone and the school leadership who made the new school a reality.

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Ciarlone said the project has been much anticipated by the Cunniff community.

“This has been the bright light in our eyes for the last year,” Ciarlone said. “We obviously have had some difficult times, but there was always this project to look forward to.” 

The first day of school in the new building is anticipated to be Oct. 12, 2021.

Charlie Breitrose Town and School officials cut the ribbon to officially open the new Cunniff Elementary School.

The old Cunniff School was first built in the middle of the 20th Century, and it was time for a new one, said School Committee Chair John Portz.

“This replaces a building that was here almost 70 years,” Portz said. “There are generations that have gone through it — my daughter went through it, many of you went through it — it was time for a transition and I think we have a great building that’s going to do that.” 

Superintendent Dede Galdston said the people who will benefit most from the new school are the students, dozens of whom attended the open house.

“What really brings me joy are the children over there who are Cunniff students …,” Galdston said. “We have been building them a building that will inspire and bring joy and creativity for decades to come and for generations to come, as well.”

Charlie Breitrose Kids play around in the Cunniff School gym during the tour of the new school.

Town Manager Michael Driscoll said he was pleased to be at an event where everyone had a smile on their face. He thanked the neighbors of the school for being patient and understanding, and the members of the Town Council for their vision and for approving the funding of the school.

He noted that the Cunniff project was built all within the Town’s normal operating budget, and without having to go to voters for an override. The Town had paid down the retirement system deficit by funding it at over 150 percent of the annual payment, and when the debt was paid off it freed up the money to pay for the elementary school projects. A new Hosmer School will be finished in early 2022, and renovation of Lowell School will soon begin.

The bonus, he added is, “The Cunniff School was completed early and under budget.”

Charlie Breitrose A view of the Cunniff School cafetorium from the second floor stairway landing.

Council President Mark Sideris thanked the groups who designed, oversaw and built the new school: the School Building Committee, the designers from Ai3 Architects, the owners project manager from Hill International, and the general contractor, Brait Builders. The final product turned out far different from what was first discussed by the School Building Committee and the design team in 2018.

“When we first started this project, this was going to be a renovation and expansion. That’s all it was going to be, and we wouldn’t have had this,” Sideris said. “And as we went along we kept pushing as a Building Committee, saying ‘I think we can do better. We think we can do better.” And when we figured out what we could do better, look at what we got.” 

Charlie Breitrose Students and parents file into Cunniff School to get their first glimpse of the new school.

One of the features of the school is it is Net Zero Energy, meaning that it produces enough energy on site to cover the energy used to operate the school. It is also LEED Gold certified. Sideris thanked residents from a number of groups in town who pushed to make the school green. Pat Rathbone, who spoke on behalf of the resident groups, said she appreciated the School officials and representatives for being open to their suggestions.

“I just wanted to thank the School Building Committee for endless hours of thoughtful work on getting to Net Zero and for being such great leaders,” Rathbone said.

The energy will be created by photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of the school, as well as on racks in the grounds of the school. The Town owns the panels, so that any additional electricity produced will be sold back to the power companies with the profits coming back to the Town.  

Sideris thanked the School Building Committee members by name, noting that they have met over 100 times since March 2018. The committee members are: Council President Mark Sideris (chair), School Committee Chair John Portz (vice chair), Superintendent Dede Galdston, School Committee member Lindsay Mosca, Council Vice President Vincent Piccirelli, Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon, Town Auditor Tom Tracy, School Director of Finance and Operations Heidi Perkins, the three resident members — Kelly Kurlbaum, Leo Patterson and Paul Anastasi — and former Watertown Director of Public Facilities Lori Kabel (who left the board when she stopped working for the Town).

Charlie Breitrose The art room at the new Cunniff School has two-story windows and plenty of space for students to spread out.

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