A host of officials from all levels of government in the Gaithersburg area helped Gaithersburg High School principal Dr. Christine Handy-Collins break ground Thursday afternoon for the school's new building, construction of which will begin immediately after the current school year ends.
Among the many guests for the ceremony were Mayor Sidney Katz and City Council members Jud Ashman, Mike Sesma, Cathy Drzyzgula, Ryan Spiegel and Henry Marraffa; Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett and County Council members Phil Andrews, Craig Rice and Marc Elrich; Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jerry Weast; Maryland Senators Nancy J. King and Jennie Forehand; Maryland Delegates James Gilchrist, Luiz Simmons, Charles E. Barkley, Kirill Reznik and Shane Robinson; and staff members representing U.S. Senator Ben Cardin and Rep. Chris Van Hollen.
"Great buildings don't come easy, and this one certainly hasn't," Weast said. "It's been a long and torturous journey," but each legislative body pushed the budget through to make sure the money was there for construction.
"It's taken too long, but sometimes it's worth waiting for," Katz said. "And that's exactly what we have today."
Steve Augustino served as the master of ceremonies. Augustino and his wife Laurie have been vocal advocates for the new building since 2005, and a driving force behind community efforts to petition the state, county and city legislators to support the construction, even after their only daughter graduated from the school in 2009.
"We can not even count how many testimonies that [Steve] has passionately delivered on behalf of this school construction project," Handy-Collins said.
"The City Council and I go to a lot of meetings, but you never went to a meeting about Gaithersburg High School that you didn't see both of them there," Katz said.
Steve Augustino serves as Montgomery County Council of PTAs' Capital Improvement Plan Committee Chairman, while Laurie acts as the council's Gaithersburg High School cluster coordinator.
"Words can not express how happy I am to have arrived at this moment," Laurie Augustino said. She took the moment to announce the formation of the Gaithersburg High School Educational Foundation, and was pleasantly interrupted by members of the school's 2000 class, who presented her with a check for $5,000.
The foundation will support the school's students and staff members by providing funds for programs, bringing in educational speakers and giving college scholarships, she said.
"We have a lot of high goals for the foundation," one of them being to create a College Tracks program, similar to the one at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, which helps students apply for college and learn how to receive financial aid, she said.
Technically, construction of the new building began in mid April during spring break. Workers are installing the first 150 geothermal wells, which will heat and cool the new building, behind the softball field. Eventually this site will be a temporary parking lot for staff when construction of the new building begins on the current parking lot.
Along with the wells, a multitude of vegetative trays covering the roof to manage storm water will make the school Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified. But of most importance to students will be a completely new design for the building's halls that will make getting around a lot easier.
"No more stairways to nowhere, and no more intersections that rival the beltway during rush hour," Laurie said. "I doubt that anyone will miss the C Hall and X Hall bottleneck during change of classes."
"The first time I walked through this building, I had to leave bread crumbs to find my out," Weast said.
Founded in 1904, Gaithersburg is the second oldest high school in the county, behind Richard Montgomery High School, which was established in 1892. Handy-Collins noted that the original building was built where Gaithersburg Elementary School stands today for a grand total of $8,400, and that its first principal received an annual salary of $600. The current building was built in 1951 and has received many additions since then, the most recent of which is the J Hall, which was added in 2005 and will still remain once construction is finished.