DURHAM – The Oyster River Cooperative School District and its school community marked the formal dedication of the new state-of-the-art Oyster River Middle School, celebrating a multi-year effort and the school’s status as a leader in energy efficiency.
More than 150 people attended the ceremony on Tuesday, Aug. 23.
The school, which opened to students on Feb. 28, was built with the focuses of academic mission, energy sustainability, wellness and safety, and acknowledgement of local, regional, and state history.
Paul and Denise Pouliot, representatives of the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook-Abenaki People, opened the program with a traditional blessing. The region is the ancestral home of the Abenaki and Wabanaki people.
Denise Pouliot thanked the District for being inclusive and for respecting the history of the First Nation. The school façade features Abenaki words. The main lobby includes a land acknowledgement. The school interior includes symbolism of mountains, land, rivers, and the ocean.
Superintendent James Morse shared the story of the eight-year push to build the school. Superintendent Morse was warned that no school construction project had ever passed on the first try.
“Sometimes people have crazy ideas. But I knew that the old middle school, it was time to replace it,” Superintendent Morse said. “With the support of our School Board, and our community, we have this great new facility.”
District leaders held more than 140 community meetings to explain the need to replace the former middle school, which opened in 1935 and no longer met the standards to provide a 21st century education.
“We gave tours of the old middle school, answering people’s questions, going door to door, putting door hangers on, anything possible so that people would know what they are voting for, and why they’re voting for it,” said School Board Member Brian Cisneros, who was a member of the “Go Vote Committee.”
The first of two bond issues was approved by 76 percent of voters in Lee, Durham, and Madbury.
Numerous speakers highlighted the building’s sustainability features, which will earn it LEED Silver certification, if not LEED Gold certification. The school may be the largest energy net-positive school in the region, and perhaps the country.
“What an incredible achievement for the state of New Hampshire, and for our towns, to be so far-thinking that we’ve come up with a building that creates more energy than it uses,” Superintendent Morse said.
Kate Peters, Energy Efficiency Director for Eversource, said the new school is the first in its service area to complete the company’s Pathway to Net Zero program.
“What this project shows us is that the future is really here. It’s both beautiful and sustainable. We have the talent and partnerships to create energy-efficient and self-sufficient buildings,” Peters said. “The students here will understand sustainability and technology in an inherent way, and they will bring that knowledge to all their future endeavors.”
School Board Chair Michael Williams praised voters for their continuing support of public education, and lauded Superintendent Morse for his leadership.
“This building will let our students do what they do best, without the building getting in the way,” Williams said.
Durham Town Council President Kitty Marple congratulated the District, and noted that an Oyster River education provides a pathway to achievement, naming numerous family members who have found success in the arts, science, military, and media.
Superintendent Morse thanked architectural firm Lavallee Brensinger of Manchester and general contractor Bauen Corp. of Meredith for meeting the District’s vision and delivering the school on time and on budget amid supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bauen Corp. President Andre Kloetz recognized the close teamwork of the District, architects, and subcontractors that contributed to the project’s success.
Representatives of U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, and U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas shared well-wishes from the congressional delegation.
Following the ceremonial ribbon-cutting, Middle School students and local musician performed a musical selection in the 900-seat performing arts center.