June 16, 2019

New sparkle for ‘jewel of community’

Observer photo by Al Frey
Elizabeth Ponce and Ethan St. Amour cut the ribbon for the refurbished Williston Central School

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

Two days before school began for real, the doors to Williston Central School opened Monday night for a first look at the $20 million in upgrades completed this month.

About 75 community members joined school administrators and building professionals from general contractor ReArch Company to celebrate the improvements and tour refurbished classrooms and common spaces.

“The library is gorgeous,” said parent Ray Larose, pointing out one of the more dramatic upgrades. The Family and Consumer Science room and gym lockers also stood out to him after touring the building, as well as smaller details like improved windows and push-button window shades.

“These renovations were very targeted,” he said, “and they help a lot.”

Williston Central was originally built in 1949, and the community has continually added on sections over the years. Voters approved a $20 million bond for renovations at Town Meeting Day in 2016. The project took about 15 months to complete — spanning two summers and one school year.

Williston Lead Principal Greg Marino encouraged Monday’s visitors to check out the dining room (now renamed the community room), the auditorium, the cafeteria, the library and the gym. He also highlighted changes to the entrance and front office area.

Many of the upgrades are out of sight, however, including air circulation, ventilation and heating, plumbing, security and fire sprinklers.

“This is a jewel of the community, and I’m so appreciative that the community stepped up to invest in the future of it,” Marino said.

Work on the bond proposal began under the former Williston School Board. That board dissolved in 2017 when the Williston School District merged with surrounding school districts to form the Champlain Valley School District. Kevin Mara served on the former Williston School Board at the time of the bond proposal and is a current member of the Champlain Valley School Board.

He praised the new school board for taking up the project and helping to see it through.

“Every classroom has had major work done,” Mara said. “It is now a great place for our children to learn.”

Many who showed up to Monday’s ribbon-cutting and building tours were students interested in seeing their classrooms and common areas. As some of the work was completed before and during last school year, not everything was new to the students.

Aaron Larose, who started seventh grade this week, recalled the challenge of maintaining a learning environment while the building was under construction last school year. Classrooms were uprooted and moved multiple times.

“We were late to a lot of classes, we just couldn’t find them,” he said. “It was just all wacked. There was a lot of commotion.”

Nicole and Tom Juiffre have one child in fourth grade and two younger children on track to attend Williston Central in coming years. They said they are thankful their whole family will benefit from the renovations.

“The environment seems more conducive to learning,” Nicole said. “You walk into other schools, and this is what you expect. I feel like we were maybe a little behind the times before.”

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