After two decades and some rushed steel bids, Stephen Decatur Middle School’s footprint is officially getting bigger.

On Wednesday, with bulldozers and giant work trucks milling around a flat dirt plat in the background, Worcester County Public Schools officials and local dignitaries flashed genuine smiles of joy as they celebrated the official groundbreaking of a long-awaited 24,800-square-foot addition on the side of the existing 79,500 square-foot school on Seahawk Road in Berlin.

“This addition is a project that this school has needed practically since its doors opened in 1997,” Superintendent Lou Taylor said to the modest crowd as participants waited to don ceremonial hard hats and clutch shiny silver shovels in front of a knee-high pile of loose tan dirt for a photo op.

“At that time we predicted how the north end community would grow,” Taylor continued. “And while the initial project didn’t ultimately include this necessary 25,000 square-foot addition, we are grateful to be able to add this much-needed space today.”

The addition will include 12 new classrooms, four science labs, meeting and prep areas, and storage space. Taylor said the new square footage will be used for general storage, as well for the school’s growing band program. He said the addition will also help improve safety and security for the school by allowing for the elimination of nine portable classrooms and the creation of a secure entry vestibule.

“Much like the one built at Showell Elementary School, it’s much-needed for safety today,” he said.

Taylor thanked numerous people in the audience during his short speech, including his own support staff, the Worcester County Commissioners, state lawmakers and members of the board of education.

He also noted one particular board member, former Superintendent Jon Andes, who stood out among the others.

“One of his first projects as superintendent was to build Stephen Decatur Middle School and 20-plus years later I’m trying to finish it for Dr. Andes,” Taylor said. “I know you wanted it then. He deserves credit for getting the space off the ground.”

Principal Lynne Barton, who served as emcee of the event, also pointed out the importance of all of the partnerships that brought the project to light, and board President Elena McComas noted the “joyous” nature of seeing a project of this caliber come to fruition.

The evolution of the project was long, with planning beginning practically when the original school was built, as Taylor said. In July, board members opted to fast-track the bid process for the steel contract, for fear of a shortage due to covid supply chain constraints.

With that, the project is set for completion by the end of 2022.

This story appears in the print edition of the OC Today on Nov. 19.

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