The start of a $50 million renovation of Rocky Hill High School was marked Friday by a ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony.
Work during the initial phase of construction will add a new 22,979-square-foot wing to the rear of the existing building. The space will be used for band and chorus, a recording studio, home and visiting team locker rooms, a fitness room and a multipurpose instructional room.
Students will be given entry to the building through the wing through a new bus loop in the rear of the building.
Voters approved the project in June 2012. The successful referendum followed a report by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges that cited the building's numerous shortcomings and threatened its accreditation.
The consensus among state and local officials who attended Friday's groundbreaking was that the day was long overdue.
"This was a long process. We've been talking about this for 10 years,'' board of education Chairman Frank Morse said.
He noted that planning for the high school's needs has been going on through the past four chairmen, Democrats and Republicans, and that it took a community-wide effort, sparked by Stay Accredited, a grassroots advocacy group that worked for passage of the referendum, to reach Friday's kickoff.
The project budget, originally set at $45 million, has risen to $50 million. An additional appropriation to cover the shortfall was secured at the close of the legislative session.
Ken Biega, assistant vice president of O&G Industries Inc., the construction manager for the project, said the schedule calls for much of the work to be done in the evenings, weekends and over school breaks to minimize disruption to students and staff.
The renovation will be done over five phases. Renovation of the existing building is scheduled to begin in January and will continue until completion in Sept. 2017. Exterior work, including replacing the front parking lot and construction of a new graduation area, will begin in the summer of 2016.
School Principal Mario Almeida said he communicates regulary with the principals at Wethersfield and Berlin high schools, which are in the midst of similar projects. The byword for staff and students, he said, will be patience.
The fall sports season, football in particular, will be affected by the construction. The home team locker area has been relocated in the building and no visiting locker space is available. "This will be a tough year,'' Almeida said