Students and their parents had first-day-of-school jitters Monday morning as they assembled outside Brookside Place School for the first time since last year. Their excitement was off the charts as the doors to the previously flood-damaged facility opened and kids returned to class.
"I'm thrilled. I'm ecstatic and we're just very excited," Cranford resident Renee Melchiorre said as she waited for her two children to enter the school building."
The School District reopened Brookside Place School Monday morning, six months after floodwaters from Hurricane Irene tore through the building, causing extensive damage that led officials to close the school for the first half of the academic year. Since September, students have been attending classes at other schools in the district, as well as Washington Elementary School in Garwood.
The reconstruction was a massive undertaking that included replacing floors, walls and the electrical system, as well as other improvements. In November, Superintendent of Schools Gayle Carrick announced that restoration of the electrical system would be delayed by a search for hard-to-find parts and equipment. The electricity was restored to the building in late December.
Most interior walls had to be torn down, replaced and several rooms were given fresh coats of paint. Ceiling tiles were replaced and new light fixtures installed. In addition, new custom benches were built for for the All-Purpose Room and the coatroom area next to the kindergarten classroom.
Students couldn't wait to return to their neighborhood school, which is within walking distance for many families.
"My daughter ran all the way here. It's definitely more convenient," Esther Maroney said after walking her two children - Abbey and Quinn - to Brookside Place Monday morning. She said her children were extremely excited to be back at the school they love. "It's like a holiday morning for them."
Maroney said the majority of the students handled the transition to other schools well, but they couldn't wait to return to their neighborhood school.
As they gathered at the front doors to the school building, students and parents greeted each other after months of separation. Blue and gold balloons decorated the front of the facility as matching ribbons were stretched across the entrance. Children excitedly jumped up and down, chatted and tried to peek inside the building, eager to see their teachers and classrooms. Principal Michael Klimko periodically stopped to talk to the children, greeting them by name and making them feel welcome.
Finally, the front doors open and a wave of cheers erupted as the Brookside teachers emerged from the building and waved to their students. Tears were shed by several parents in attendance as they watched their childrens' reactions.
"We're very excited about it (the reopening of the school building)," said Carol Ebersol of Willow Street, who waited outside the school with her husband, Steve as their first grade son, Jason, chatted with his classmates.
Audrey McMahon, 7, said she was "really happy" to be returning to BPS. While she missed her friends and teachers, there was one thing the first-grader missed more than anything else.
"I missed the playground," she said with a grin.
Maria Mikessell, who has one child attending Brookside, said that despite the extensive damage caused by the flooding, she believed the school would re-open before the end of the school year.
"I was always hopeful that it was going to open this year," Mikessell said. "It's exciting for the kids."
As the anticipation continued to build, teachers told students to wave goodbye to their parents and to "walk, don't run" into their school building for the first time since June of 2011. Within seconds, a anxious - yet orderly - wave of students pushed through the front doors then waited obediently inside the building for teachers to usher them to class.
The school principal said the students, staff and parents have been "incredibly resilient" throughout the six-month ordeal. Klimko showed his appreciation for the efforts of the superintendent of schools and everyone in the district who worked to ensure a smooth transition for students to other facilities and back to Brookside.
"I can't thank Dr. Carrick and her staff enough for all they've done," Klimko said.
According to Carrick, the rest of the 300-plus students will return to Brookside in a two-part phase-in: First- and second-graders who had been attending Washington School in Garwood returned Monday morning. On March 5, kindergartners and second-through-fifth-graders presently attending classes at Bloomingdale, Hillside, Livingston and Orange Avenue schools are expected to arrive at BPS at 8:35 a.m. Morning kindergarten will dismiss at 11:15 a.m.; afternoon kindergarten students are expected to arrive at school at 12:15 p.m.
"I am beyond thrilled to have the children back in their own school," Carrick said Monday morning. She said that "so many people were responsible for making this happen," and she appreciates the efforts of everyone in the district who spent the last six months working to get the school reopened.