Faculty, students ‘learning the ropes’ at new Fisher Hill Elementary School addition in Orange

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 01-11-2023 3:08 PM

ORANGE — Tuesday’s dismissal bell marked the end of students’ first week learning inside Fisher Hill Elementary School’s new 50,000-square-foot addition, and teachers and staff say the youngsters are adapting to the new digs.

“The kids seem to like it. They’re going to have very strong legs, because right now they’re climbing up to the top floor,” first grade teacher Kelly Therrien joked at dismissal time. “It’s exciting. It was a big move, a lot of big changes, a lot of anxiety and anticipation, but we’re excited to be here and we look forward to showing it to the community.”

On Jan. 3, students in kindergarten through third grade moved from the school’s pre-existing section to the new addition and will remain there until the academic year concludes. Students in those grades will return to the other section, set to be gutted and renovated over the spring and summer, in the fall, at which point the adjacent Dexter Park Innovation School students will be taught in the new addition.

Dexter Park, built in 1951, is set to be demolished in the fall and replaced with a wildflower meadow equipped with a handicapped-accessible walking path for students.

“The transition was rough, but we’re working out kinks,” said second grade teacher Sherry Anderson, elaborating that she had tote bins of supplies in her classroom while construction work was still being conducted. Anderson and Therrien highlighted the updated security system and the building’s natural lighting.

“It’s beautiful. It’s bright. The tile work is amazing — I always comment on that,” Therrien said.

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According to Bruce Scherer, chair of the Orange School Building Committee, the addition has 30 classrooms, a main office, administrative offices, a physical therapy room and a family resource center that is accessible without having to enter through the school’s main entrance. It has three floors, whereas the pre-existing section has two. Martin Goulet of Hill International Inc., the company managing the project on behalf of the town, previously said the building’s electronic security and intruder-proof glass called School Guard Glass is “the latest in technology.”

The expanded 97,000-square-foot building is expected to serve Orange’s educational needs for at least 50 years. Goulet mentioned that as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the school features a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system that moves air through ultraviolet light to kill bacteria.

The Dexter Park building, which serves students in grades four through six, was given the lowest rating by the Massachusetts School Building Authority, a quasi-independent government authority. Voters approved funding a feasibility study in 2018 to study the Dexter Park issue and come up with options to repair or replace it.

In 2020, residents voted to ratify a Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion override they had previously passed at Town Meeting to start the Fisher Hill addition and renovations. Goulet and Scherer said the project costs $45 million, with Orange on the hook for roughly $22 million.

According to Therrien and Anderson, faculty members started moving into the addition on Dec. 23.

Administrative Assistant Brigitte Richards made her usual announcements over the intercom system on Tuesday, informing groups of lined-up students that they could exit the building to board their buses as a winding procession of vehicles on Dexter Street waited to pick up children.

“It’s crazy busy,” she said between afternoon announcements. “We’re learning the ropes of the new locations of classrooms and everything like that, but all things considered, everyone’s transitioned really well. We’re trying. It’s definitely one of those things where the transition has gone well. We’re still unpacking, we’re still getting organized.

“All the kids are happy,” Richards added. “Everyone is having a good time. They love the school.”

Reach Domenic Poli at dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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