Nearly seven years after they went to work, Harwich's high school building committee exchanged its paper plans for hard hats.
"Projects like this are direct proof that the collective labor of a lot of people can get something done, and not only get something done but get something special done," said State Rep Sarah Peake during the Friday noon ceremony to officially launch construction of a building, and of a new regional school district.
Peake, who worked closely with the towns of Chatham, Harwich, and the new Monomoy School District, highlighted some of the nail-biting cliff-hanging moments - including simultaneous town meetings and funding challenges - that marked the journey the towns took as the they embraced a regionalized solution.
Together we grow
"This is not just about building a school but about building a school community," Monomoy Superintendent Dr. Carolyn Cragin told the crowd of several hundred community members and state official who gathered in the current Harwich High School gym to celebrate the day.
"That's why we're doing a coming together ceremony, as well as a ground breaking," she said, as the assembled group prepared to kick off construction for the high school, which will open its doors to students in September 2014.
Some 52 Monomy students - each carrying a blue Monomy-logoed sand pail of soil - circulated among the audience. The students represented all the classes in the current schools across the new district.
They filled the little pails with soil from locations across the two towns. By pouring the soil into the new construction site, explained Cragin, the community would symbolically come together with roots from every corner and sprout into a unified community.
Sunny Skies Ahead
With the start of March underway and spring just 19 days in the future, comparisons to planting seeds and growing anew were inevitable. Even the sun seemed to perform on command, popping out a few minutes before noon to turn an overcast morning into a sunny near-spring afternoon.
State Treasurer and Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) Chair Steve Grossman praised the work of the towns and noted that because of that collaboration the MSBA would be covering 51.5 percent of the $64M project.
Congressman Bill Keating echoed the theme of the power of collaborative communities and support for future generations.
Cragin led a shout out for teachers and the group enthusiastically applauded the work of educators in growing the next generation.
The Class of 2019
Two member of that next generation - Isaiah Stafford and Lucy Ryan, sixth graders at Harwich and Chatham Middle Schools respectively -- spoke about what it felt like to be the first class that will go through the new school from 8th to 12th grade.
The students, who will graduate in 2019, represent the full flowering of the new district. To that image, Ryan read a poem she wrote for the occasion, drawing smiles from the audience with her descriptions of the role of dirt in growth and change.
Belief and Commitment
Jack McCarthy, MSBA executive director, pointed out the dollar credits the town received not only for regionalization, but also for selecting a model school and committing to a green building - and how those decisions positively impact tax payers through more state funds and faster time to market.
He looked at the students with their blue buckets and Monomoy-logoed scarves and spoke directly to them. "Your parents and your neighbors voted to pay more because they believe in you," he said. "On the count of three, say a big 'thank you'."
And on the count of three a loud chorus of young voices sang out a hearty and heartfelt "Thank You!"
To the Ground
The happy crowd moved outdoors, behind the gym, where the new building will begin rising to the sky. By May, said Cragin, drivers should be able to see the 168,000 sf building's initial structure from Oak Street.
As a group of high school musicians performed Crosby Stills Nash & Young's "Teach Your Children" under the white tent and blue skies, their peers filed through by class - starting with the seniors - and poured the buckets of Monomoy soil into the new construction site, pail after pail, creating a visual mix of sand, and clay, and loam.
Then, the assembled dignitaries and the Monomoy Building Committee took turns shoveling scoops of dirt ... with help from a last minute "special guest". The guest Shark - the new district's mascot - smiled a toothy sharky grin, and joined the others until the students' earth and the high school earth mixed together to form one inseparable ground, the ground on which a new district and a new school will rise.
See photos from the groundbreaking below. View the slideshow in Flickr to see descriptions. All photos by Teresa Martin.