Natchaug School students and staff move back into building with new roof

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Willimantic - posted Tue., Jan. 28, 2014
The new floor in the cafeteria of the Natchaug School gleams, just two days before students were scheduled to return to the building after a 19-months absence. Photos by Melanie Savage.
The new floor in the cafeteria of the Natchaug School gleams, just two days before students were scheduled to return to the building after a 19-months absence. Photos by Melanie Savage.

On the morning of Jan. 19, the halls of the Natchaug School on Jackson Street were bustling with activity. Custodians stood on ladders in stairwells, touching up the bright green and blue paint recently added to accent freshly-painted, bright white walls. The gleaming new floor in the cafeteria was getting a final buff, as were floors on the upper levels of the building. And in many classrooms, teachers were busy putting classrooms back together, as school staff prepared to return after more than 18 months to their home school building. 

“It’s been a long haul, but it’s exciting for the kids and parents,” said Windham Superintendent Ana Ortiz, who spent much of her weekend at the school, overseeing activities, even helping to carry in classroom furniture. Custodians from all over the district spent many hours at Natchaug over the weekend, putting finishing touches on the building and helping to move furniture back from Windham Middle School.

More than a year and a half ago, concerns regarding the deteriorating roof at Natchaug forced the relocation of the K-5 population. Kindergartners were reinstalled at the Kramer Building, with the rest of the students ending up at the middle school. Securing approvals for repair of the Natchaug roof was a lengthy and contentious process. And while they waited, elementary students were forced to endure cramped conditions.

Work to install the new, $1.36-million pitched roof on the 1913 building began in July of 2013, and was completed just recently. Rehab to the interior of the building began in September, and included sanding and refinishing all hardwood floors in the high-ceilinged classrooms, repainting interior walls, and adding the new, bright trim colors. “The kids made the decisions on the paint,” said Ortiz.

On Friday, Jan. 17, staff began the long, taxing process of moving classroom furnishings back into the school, using two large trucks, U-Hauls and personal vehicles to get the job done. “Our custodial staff has been unbelievable,” said Ortiz, giving special recognition to Natchaug’s head custodian, Dave Orefice. “He was amazing,” said Ortiz. “If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have gotten this finished.”

Inside an upper-level corner classroom, art teacher Brenda Anderson was wading through a sea of construction paper, crayons and other art supplies. She was assisted by Tricia Figueroa, daughter of Natchaug paraprofessional Pam Bibeau. Anderson echoed Ortiz' sentiments regarding the district’s custodial staff. She pointed to some massive cabinets in the corner of her classroom, estimating their weight at 500 pounds apiece. Because they didn’t fit into the elevators, staff were forced to hand-carry them up the stairs. “These people were just amazing,” said Anderson.

Anderson, who has taught in the district for almost 30 years, said she couldn’t be happier to be getting back to her home building. “I am excited,” she said. “I just can’t tell you how excited I am to be back here.”

Parents were invited to attend an open house at Natchaug on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (Jan. 20), in advance of the students’ homecoming on Jan. 21. Asked whether she thought the building would be ready, Ortiz had no doubt. “Absolutely, we’ll be ready for Tuesday,” she said.

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