DARIEN — After a summer of demolition, teachers and staff at Ox Ridge Elementary School welcomed Darien students back from summer vacation with a brand new building.
This week marks the first school year inside Ox Ridge’s new academic wing that is “better in every conceivable way,” Principal Luke Forshaw said.
Demolition on the previous school building, dating back to the 1960s, began in July after years of planning and construction for the $63-million project.
“It’s just been so much hard work from staff and from our committee, and to get here, it’s just been awesome,” Forshaw said. “The parents are thrilled. Kids are coming in beaming.”
“It’s a wonderful time of year — the start of school — any particular school year, but maybe particularly so this year after two and a half years of the pandemic,” schools Superintendent Alan Addley said.
“Teachers and kids were just excited to be back together, both with their colleagues and their friends,” he added. “It was just wonderful to see the excitement around the district and the passion around the district.”
Laura Gabriele is thrilled that her daughter will get to enjoy fifth grade in the brand new building.
“It seems like forever,” Gabriele said. “But for her, it’s been really exciting to be able to see the building come together and really grow from a field into a beautiful new school.”
The multi-level brick structure is built directly into the hillside, maximizing space for the school’s more than 500 students.
The school takes further advantage of the environment with floor-to-ceiling glass windows to let in the natural light and a central courtyard that can operate as green space and an outdoor amphitheater for school performances.
One of the new additions to the school are Learning Commons, communal spaces connecting each grade’s four classrooms to encourage collaboration between students.
Each Learning Common is bordered by personal lockers for each student, freeing up space inside the classroom once occupied by cubbies.
The lockers have been a big hit with the students, including with Gabriele’s daughter. “She loves the fact that she has her own brand new locker,” Gabriele said. “It really, I think, gets her ready for middle school next year.”
Though the academic wing is open for classes, construction is still underway next door on the school’s assembly wing, which will include a library, cafeteria, and gymnasium.
For now, lunchtime and physical education will continue uninterrupted in makeshift rooms that will later become Ox Ridge’s Early Learning Program classrooms.
“These students have done a wonderful job, as have the staff and the families,” Forshaw said. “They’ve lived in a construction zone for two or three years now and have been very patient and supportive of all the work, all the changes that we need to make to accommodate the digging and the construction.”
The assembly wing is expected to be completed by August 2023, in time for next year’s first day of school.
The school will officially celebrate the new academic wing with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 10.
Mollie Hersh, Darien Times