The huge, empty hallways smelled like the wood aisle at Home Depot. Large boxes – empty and not – lined most corridors, and all the computers and monitors in the media room were still wrapped in plastic. But nonetheless the modular Watertown High School at PFC Richard Moxley Field held its grand opening five days before the first day of school, complete with a red ribbon and giant scissors to cut it.
“This is a school that celebrates the learning we do here in Watertown, and it’s one that our students deserve,” said Principal Joel Giacobozzi. “From the school side, we have worked tirelessly. The teachers have been here all day unpacking.”
“I think you’re going to be amazed at what you see here,” said Superintendent Dr. Dede Galdston, before she sliced the ribbon and she, Giacobozzi, and Assistant City Manager Steve Magoon invited a fairly large group of students, parents, and others interested to tour the inside of the modules for the first time.
Giacobozzi, Galdston, and Magoon all told Watertown News that they were variously excited and relieved to be at this point, even though the six-year-long project was really just the first step in a much larger master plan of tearing down the old Watertown High School building and building a new school.
“While it is a long time coming, it’s a lot faster than it would have been if we tried to get the students in existing school and put them in the construction zone,” Magoon said.
When asked whether there were any thoughts that students might have to stay in the modules for longer than the currently-planned three years, all three officials said construction looked to be pretty well on schedule.
“Ideally we’ll be in there [the new building] but April 2026, and we’re very optimistic that’s going to happen,” said Galdston. “Our contractor worked on the Cunniff, they worked on the Hosmer, and everyone in Watertown knows those projects came in early.”
Chris Essih, a 16-year-old rising junior at WHS, said the first thing he noticed about the new space was the hallways.
“The hallways are a little bit shorter,” he said. “I do like the space. I like how everything [all the classrooms] is by subject and the lighting is nice.”
Essih thought the walls could use some decor, but wasn’t too bothered by the bareness, saying “It’s an environment that I can do well in and succeed in.”
Giacobozzi roamed the still-bare hallways, taking it all in and joking with students who came to have a look.
“Hey if you touch the billboards you have to decorate them,” he warned.
“Really?!” the student responded. “I would love that!”
In his office, which was half-unpacked and surrounded by boxes, Giacobozzi held forth on how all the staff was to open the school up.
“The vibe is: we’re excited,” he told Watertown News. “It’s like a moving day for college freshmen where everyone’s helping each other.”
When asked if he thought the innards of the school would be fully set up in time for the first day, Giacobozzi admitted it would be a process.
“Anyone that’s moved into a new house knows that you really don’t unpack for a full year,” he joked. “We won’t have that. But we have let me put it this way, we had 1,500 crates in the building. As of this morning [Aug. 31], we are down to a few hundred crates.”
Outside at the school entrance, Maria Caracino, a WHS parent said she was “still processing” the huge change.
“I’m pleasantly surprised,” she said. “We’re still figuring out how to navigate the hallways. I wish they had figured out how to do this [build the modular high school] sooner, but better late than never.”
Her son, Max Bennett, who’s entering his senior year, was nonplussed by the development.
“This is just another step in the process,” he said.
Improvements Over the Old
The grand plan of rebuilding the high school was necessitated in large part because of the lack of amenities in the 100-year-old building. For example: a lack of air conditioning often made classes in the hot temperatures unbearable.
“We got two complaints that it was too cold in here today!” Giacobozzi practically crowed about the HVAC system in the modular building. “The lighting is eco-friendly, it has brand new whiteboards, there’s a sprinkler system, and [the building] is even more accessible.”
Galdston also touted the HVAC system, as well as the classrooms that are now larger and more
airy classrooms in comparison to the old building.
“More importantly, I think when you go into a classroom, you feel a good sense of community,” she said. “When you think of this outside as being a modular high school, you might lose the fact that, no no no no, what’s in there is what counts. And what we’ve provided is a learning environment that kids are going to thrive in.”
“When it comes down to it, the thing that makes the classroom the classroom is the teachers and the students,” Magoon said. “They’ll make this their home and those classrooms will be what they make of it, which will be wonderful.”