MERIDEN — Construction crews were in the final stages of work at Wilcox Technical High School Tuesday, preparing for students to return today.
The students will find an almost entirely new building — the portable classrooms that lined Oregon Road are completely gone, replaced by staff parking. A new courtyard sprawls between wings of the school, and administrative offices have been moved out of the middle of the school to make way for a library and media center.
“It’s a huge change. This is a huge building compared to the tiny building it was before. It’s probably three times larger than when we started,” School Principal Lisa Hylwa said Tuesday.
The project, begun in early 2012, cost $77.9 million. It was paid for by the state.
A statement from the state Department of Administrative Services, which oversaw the project says, “The school will open as scheduled. We are in the final stages of the project. The main building is complete, and there is some work left in the annex building, as well as some site work. We are on schedule and within budget...we appreciate the patience and assistance of the Wilcox staff, faculty, and students.”
The smell of fresh paint filled some wings of the school, and teachers were busy setting up classrooms completed over the summer, while outside, crews from the Glastonbury-based Gilbane Building Co. finished laying pavers.
There are new rooms for plumbing and graphic design laboratories.
Hylwa said she is particularly proud of the student-run Silver City Bistro, a room offering full-service lunch to the public.
Renovation of the room wasn’t part of the reconstruction project. It was a “pet project” of Hylwa and food services faculty. The bistro has muted paint tones, ornate light fixtures, and abstract artwork.
“These past few months we’ve seen a big push to get everything done, and for a while, nobody was allowed in here because of safety concerns,” Hylwa said. “The school will be ready to use when students get here, but there are still some kinks to work out.”
The school’s library and media center are still under construction. Hylwa said the room should be complete by the end of September, and will feature a mix of technology and hard copy books.
The larger building means a new approach to security, Hylwa said.
“In the past, I think we got a little lax about propping doors open, or letting students in before there was adequate personnel to keep track of everyone,” she said, adding that moving forward it’s going to be “incumbent upon everyone to understand and keep the rules we have in place. There are so many nooks and crannies in here.”
To help students navigate the new school, Hylwa said teachers would be stationed in certain hallways for the first few weeks.
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