The opening of the fully-completed Clark Avenue Middle School is just about one month away, and work crews are finishing up the final preparations to welcome students into the completed new school project – after more than three years and two phases of construction.
“I think we’re shooting for substantial completion by the middle of August,” said Gerry McCue of the Chelsea Schools. “Teachers go back on Aug. 27 and students come into the new school on Aug. 29. We expect to have the school operational then. There will be punch list items to get to, but nothing major will be left.”
The completion of Phase 2 will mark the end of the $57 million project that started under former City Manager Jay Ash, and was carried out by City Manager Tom Ambrosino and the School Department.
Already, Phase 1 opened in December 2017, and students and teachers have been using half of the school since that time. The former building, the Old Chelsea High, had been completely demolished earlier this year to make way for Phase 2.
Demolition of the other side of the old high school started in March 2015, when the project first got off the ground.
With the addition of the Phase 2 building, the school will be introduced to many of the amenities, including the gym, an auditorium, a small performance stage, the library, technology labs, art rooms, music rooms, an administrative suite and the new front courtyard facing Crescent and Clark Avenues.
“In addition to things like the gym, there will be a smaller performance space and things can be done on that stage and the cafeteria can be used for seating,” he said. “Larger productions can be done in the auditorium. That’s important because the Clark Ave is the feeder program for the Chelsea High Drama Club, so they have an emphasis on music and performing arts at the Clark Avenue.”
The courtyard will be a very welcome addition to the school and the neighborhood, he said. The space was designed to open up to Crescent and Clark Avenues so that the buildings are pushed back and the space seem more open and inviting. He said the possibilities are endless for the new space.
“We could do outdoor performances or in the summer the City could have a movie night for the neighborhood out there,” he said. “There will be seating and decking in the courtyard. There will also be a school garden there too. There has been a big emphasis on school gardens across the district and the Clark Ave will have one too.”
He said that the top floors are pretty much completed, and many classrooms are set up now. He said the bottom floor is still having work done – as the contractor started from the top and worked down.
As it is, the action is aplenty on the site as the final work is completed.
“There’s just a lot of activity there now and it will be non-stop until the first day of school,” he said.
The Clark Avenue School is expected to have 668 students when it opens in August.
City Councillor Leo Robinson ended the drama around the Council Presidency on Monday night by getting a unanimous 10-0 vote on the first ballot by his colleagues.
Serving as vice president will be Dan Cortell, and the School Committee Rep will be Chris Cataldo.
Much controversy erupted prior to the holiday season as Robinson and Councillor Cliff Cunningham squared off in a contested bid for the votes of their colleagues. At stake was not the normal duties of the Council President, but rather the lead role in conducting the search and choice and assimilation of a new city manager. The situation resulted into the political tactic of a quorum block being used at a mid-December meeting to stall a vote on the issue. In the interim, it appears that councillors worked out a solution and were unified by Monday.
Robinson graciously accepted the support of his colleagues, and at a public meeting on Tuesday, acknowledged the hard work of outgoing leaders Matt Frank (president) and Cunningham (vice president).
However, he used his acceptance speech on Monday to drive home the point to local non-profits, to residents and to City Hall leaders that the City Council is ready and up to the task of leading the way in picking a new city manager.
That unified Council message came due to some background conversations around the City doubting whether or not the Council could work together well-enough and professionally enough to correctly make this very important decision.
“Many a stakeholder have asked ‘What are we going to do now that Jay is leaving?,’” Robinson said. “Well, it’s true that you have big shoes to fill; those size 15s of yours are enormous. Our work together though, to ‘plan the work and then work the plan’ around a single ‘Pro-Chelsea agenda’ that has done so much to produce so many results here will live on…Life would be so much easier if the things that worked would work forever. Unfortunately, nothing ever works forever, and this night was going to happen sooner or later. I personally know it could have happened much sooner, so I cry not that we’re losing you too soon. Instead, I celebrate your work, Jay Ash, and now prepare for the next important task of our work, leading an effort to find our next accomplished manager here.
“There are some in Chelsea who are concerned that we won’t be equal to the task,” he continued. “To them, I say that the City Council has been two for two, having and continuing to reappoint Jay and his predecessor, Guy Santagate, to lead us through tougher times in great ways. For the last 20 years…Chelsea has seen the benefits of professionalism over politics, and I have every expectation that approach will get us the best possible next city manager to build off of Santagate and Ash and deliver us to an even higher place than we stand today.”
He said that no one needed to worry about a return to old-style politicking in the process and that he would lead a professional, transparent search.
“As the City Council president, I pledge to all of you stakeholders that we will conduct a truly open search, not seeking our best friend, but instead finding the best possibly qualified man or woman to be our next city manager,” he said. “As the City Council president, I pledge to all of you stakeholders that while the daily process may sometimes be rough – as it is only human nature to have disagreements and to sometimes have harsh words over those disagreements – the final product will make everyone proud. The old saying of needing to crack eggs in order to make a great soufflé is certainly an appropriate one here.”
Much of the rest of Robinson’s address, however, was devoted to remembering and thanking Ash for all the years he has put in at City Hall – literally transforming the City.
“Jay, on behalf of the City Council and our entire community, let me again thank you for all you have done for us personally and the City of Chelsea as a whole,” he said. “For the 18 years you have been at City Hall, including the last 14 as the city manager, you’ve been a great change agent, our biggest cheerleader and a terrific leader.”
Two-hundred-and-fifty-five students in the Chelsea High School Class of 2013 will participate in commencement ceremonies Sunday at 1 p.m. in the school gymnasium.
Constance Beck-Treadway, who will be attending Yale University, will deliver the valedictory address. Lejla Skokic, who will be attending Harvard College, will deliver the salutatory address.
CHS Principal Joseph Mullaney praised the top students. “Constance and Lejla have challenged themselves and taken 16 Advanced Placement courses at the school,” said Mullaney. “Over the last three years, they’ve averaged almost three AP courses each. They’re outstanding students.”
Maranatha Boyer, president of the Class of 2013, will make her presidential speech. Kelly Becerra, a senior and a member of the CHS Chorus and Drama Club, will sing the National Anthem.
Dr. Mary Bourque, superintendent of Chelsea schools, and member of the Chelsea School Committee, will present diplomas to the graduates. Mullaney will read the names of the graduates.
City Manager Jay Ash will bring the official greetings of the city.
Mullaney said that more than $200,000 in scholarships will be presented to the graduates.
Chelsea High School students are winding down rehearsals in preparation for their performance of the musical “Rent” April 4-6 at the school auditorium.
CHS drama and dance teacher Alisha Cornacchia and music director Andrea Wichar have been working with 35 cast members and 10-15 crew members on the production in three-hour rehearsals five days a week.
“The play is coming together – everything always comes together in the last minute as we get all the lights and the set and the pieces of the puzzle,” said Cornacchia, who also directed the CHS Drama Club’s presentation of “Diary of Anne Frank” in November.
Cornacchia, who holds an undergraduate degree in Theater from the University of South Florida and a Master’s degree from Salem State University, said there is much dramatic and artistic talent being displayed by the dedicated cast and crew.
“The students work really hard to be a part of this and it’s an opera, so there is so much for them to memorize and to learn the music, dancing, singing, and acting,” said Cornacchia. “They have a huge challenge in front of them and the subject matter in Rent is serious.”
Eric Nuguyen, a talented junior who will play the controversial character, Angel, in the play, is performing in his third musical production. This is his first performance with Ms. Cornacchia at the helm.
“She [Cornacchia] is doing a fabulous job,” said Nguyen. “We’re learning all the dance steps and she’s always on point.”
Nguyen is hopeful that CHS students will attend the performances.
“We’re hoping that we sell out the performances,” said Nguyen, who wants to study Musical Theater in college.
Jackelenee Benitez, a senior, has a huge behind-the-scenes position as stage manager and lighting designer. She has been involved with six CHS productions.
“As stage manager, I take care of props, sets, and making sure that everyone is here and on time and doing what they’re supposed to,” said Benitez, who hopes to be an interior designer. “As lighting designer I have to program all the lighting that happens, whether it be nighttime or daylight on set and I create the mood.”
Benitez said it’s been a joy with Ms. Cornacchia on the production.
“I think she’s really fun to work with and easy to work with and she’s a great director,” said Benitez. “I’m learning a lot from her. I love how I get to see the play come together from the beginning to now.”
(Tickets for the April 4, 5, and 6 performances at 7 p.m. are $5 for students, teachers, and seniors, $8 for adults).