MERIDEN — Most of the city’s public school campuses will have new outdoor learning spaces, funded through the school district’s share of federal COVID-19 relief monies, as soon as next spring.
On Monday afternoon, district officials, educators, Board of Education members and other elected officials gathered on the field behind Israel Putnam Elementary School to break ground on one of those new facilities.
By next spring, Israel Putnam will have a new permanent 720-square-foot, roof-covered learning pavilion, large enough to accommodate a classroom of students. Israel Putnam is one of 10 schools across the city that will receive such a facility. Edison Middle School will have the largest pavilion at 3,200 square feet — enough to seat up to 150 people.
In addition, officials unveiled plans to install outdoor classroom spaces at five schools: Edison, as well as Hanover, Hooker, Putnam and Sherman elementary schools.
Officials also revealed renderings of an improved North End Field, where new turf baseball and softball fields will be installed, and a new 1,980-square-foot playground at Casimir Pulaski Elementary School. The field is located at 210 Britannia St. Federal support
All of the projects, an investment totaling around $2 million, will be funded through the Meriden Public Schools’ share of federal grants made available through the American Rescue Plan Act. The school district is set to receive more than $23 million. The total is separate from another $36.3 million the city of Meriden has been allocated. Between the city and the school district, Meriden is scheduled to receive close to $60 million in federal funds.
“... [T]hese federal dollars will be put to good use and it will come to us in a way that will allow the city to not have to absorb these costs,” said School Superintendent Mark D. Benigni, who added some of the projects would have been items on the Board of Education’s capital improvements list.
Every school will eventually have a permanent pavilion for outdoor learning, Benigni said.
At Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, where space is considerably tighter than at other schools, officials were still working out logistics to determine where a pavilion could be located.
Outdoor learning is not a new concept for Israel Putnam, explained the school’s principal Enza Adamcewicz. Teachers and students have made full use of the school’s existing outdoor space and its previous tent.
“Our teachers and students have taken advantage of the outdoor space. Lessons were held outside under the tent and a lot of learning has taken place,” Adamcewicz said.
She said there’s no doubt the new classroom and pavilion will be used often for hands-on outdoor science lessons and social emotional learning activities.
District officials surveyed families about the types of items they would like to see funded through the one-time ARP funds. More than 2,900 families responded. Priorities included increased staffing — teachers, classroom aides and other support — as well as investments in new outdoor learning spaces. Families also prioritized investing in building modernization and technology, according to survey results district officials shared during the board’s Oct. 5 meeting. ‘Celebration’
Board of Education President Rob Kosienski Jr. and other board members donned hard hats and picked up shovels to ceremonially break ground on the pavilion. Kosienski described the occasion as a “celebration.”
“The celebration is our schools are open,” Kosienski said, adding the pavilions would “give our incredible teachers” new outdoor teaching opportunities.
Kosienski also celebrated that the school district was able to maintain continuous in-person learning throughout the last school year and into the current one. He said it was a testament to the entire Meriden public schools, from maintenance and food service, to teachers, to administrators and the board.
“The vision that the Board of Education has had over the past 18 months is to make sure that school is in session every single day. We have had some challenges. We’ve worked with our health department. But ultimately, ladies and gentlemen, our school district is one of the few districts that had school every day,” Kosienski said. “We made sure that our sports happened. We made sure that our musicals happened. We made sure that students had opportunities inside and outside the classroom.”