By Jon Meoli, firstname.lastname@example.org
6:52 PM EDT, September 27, 2013
When funding was secured for a 300-seat addition at Hampton Elementary School over two and a half years ago, the school’s PTA was already thinking about the finished product.
The group put $5,000 into an account, earmarked for a blowout celebration once the construction was completed and school could resume.
“It’s joyous relief,” PTA President Yara Cheikh said Friday evening, as the party she waited over two years for swirled on around her. “I think we came out of everything as a stronger community, and we love our school. You can feel it. The families are very excited.”
Maureen Zingo, the school’s former PTA President and Friday’s event organizer, said she printed nearly 900 tickets to distribute, and anticipated there were even more people in attendance than that.
With the local band That’s What She Said—featuring a Hampton mother on vocals—playing behind the school, hundreds of families and neighbors sprawled out on blankets over the newly grown grass and enjoyed food, face painting, and games.
The children played on the playgrounds and the school’s tennis and basketball courts, leaving many of the parents time to reflect on the process of renovating their schoolhouse.
Yolla Kallab, a mother of four, said that when her two oldest children went through Hampton, the family “went through a lot back then.”
“There were a lot of trailers, a lot of kids,” she said. But now, with her fourth-grade twins Mark and Anthony enjoying a modern, air-conditioned school house, she joked with other parents that she wished she had more kids to send through the school.
Earlier in the day, the students joined a group of elected officials and school leaders for a ribbon cutting ceremony.
Many of the remarks centered around the school's struggles as the project progressed. Unlike their peers at Stoneleigh Elementary, who spent a year at the old Carver Center building to allow for construction to be completed in a year without interfering with instruction, Hampton held two years of classes on an active construction site.
So it seemed fitting to Principal Patricia Kaiser to include yellow caution tape along with the blue ribbon signifying the school color when officials joined the school community for a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday morning.
"During the past two years and four months — yes, we have been counting — our children, faculty, staff, parents and community members shared a unique experience in which an addition was built and every space in the existing building was reconfigured while instruction and construction coexisted," Kaiser said.
The $18.9-million addition added 22 classrooms and has put the school — once over 180-percent overcrowded — under capacity for the first time in years.
"Today marks the end of a significant period of history for all of us," Cheikh said at the ceremony. "For eight years, our school was over capacity. For the last two years, teachers, administrators students taught and learned in the most overcrowded school in the state."
But the Friday morning ribbon cutting was held to recognize both those who made the addition happen and those who endured it.
Both Kaiser and Superintendent Dallas Dance praised the teachers for their perseverance throughout several moves and interruptions to their classroom time.
"You didn't let any of that cloud the work happening in your classroom. You were patient, you were flexible, as you did have to pack, and unpack, and pack again, and unpack," Dance said.
"So thank you for that, because as construction was happening, you continued to hold your head high and you continued to motivate our young people to keep our eyes on the finished product."