Walsh Intermediate School was built in 1972 at the height of the open classroom concept, a trend that was never completely successful. Opened as Branford Intermediate School for fifth through eighth graders, the school was subsequently renamed in honor of Francis Walsh, who served as principal for more than 20 years, from 1972 until his retirement in 1994.
Walsh, who went on to serve on the Board of Selectmen, was among the town officials, local legislators, and construction representatives attending the groundbreaking last week for the school’s $88.2 million renovation, the largest bonding appropriation undertaken by the town.
Cosgrove wasn’t in office during most of those years until he was elected First Selectman five years ago. This was a project he believed needed to happen. He followed up on the previous efforts and put together a committee of members of the Board of Education, RTM, along with some parents to evaluate the different school properties, including WIS. He then referred it to the newly appointed Public Building Commission for their evaluation and recommendations. “They worked hard and here we are today.”
“There were lots of meetings over that time and here we are finally getting started. It’s good to see that the shovels will be going in the ground today to get this long awaited project underway,” Cosgrove told the assembled crowd.
Cosgrove described the project as a “long identified need” and thanked the town officials and legislators who helped move it forward. He also described the process in bringing the renovation to fruition, one that could not have happened without Branford’s legislators State Reps. Lonnie Reed and Sean Scanlon and State Sen. Ted Kennedy, Jr. They were instrumental in obtaining a $30 million grant from the state.
It was a groundbreaking many years in the making. Plans began in earnest in 2012 with parent discussions about the acoustics and the lack of walls and windows. Would a whole new school be necessary or could the original structure be renovated?
Studies about various options for the school led to the hiring of Antinozzi Associates of Bridgeport as architects in April 2016. Colliers International was hired as owner’s representative and Fusco Corp, as construction manager.
Financing was a big concern, given the tenuous state budget, but in the end, the state came through with $30 million in state funds.
Walsh principal Raeanne Reynolds (pictured) was emcee. She introduced the students who decorated the 12 shovels used in the ceremonies. She also introduced Ava Cosgrove , Cosgrove’s daughter, who is in the 8th grade. She sang the National Anthem, and later ‘God Bless America,’ a Cantare selection sung by WIS students under the direction of Theresa Madrid.
Public Building Commission chair Peter Banca and commission members, which include Board of Education representatives, have been overseeing the renovation, monitoring the budget, and receiving reports from the architects and construction officials. Banca described the event as “a proud day for Branford.”
An excited Superintendant of Schools Hamlet Hernandez, also told about the long wait to get to this point and mentioned it to the fifth graders invited to attend the ceremonies, “You will be going through a lot over the next three years until you leave WIS. When you go home each night you will be asked, ‘how was the noise today, how was the dust’?”
Hernandez encouraged patience and said there would be questions as the project progressed. He said the youth of the town deserve a quality school.
Members of Walsh’s Cantare sang “God Bless America.”
Banca and Lynn Fusco, the president of Fusco Construction Co., presented ceremonial shovels to key personnel involved in the project. With that, hardhats were donned and ground was officially broken. The other students and staff at Walsh were able to see the ceremonies on closed circuit TV.
Phase one will begin as soon as school is let out for the summer and completion is expected in late 2020. Several public information sessions have been held and updates are posted on www.walshschoolproject.org.