Summit School District to ‘protect, preserve’ student memorial garden during construction
Since the groundbreaking for a $29 million expansion of Summit High School, questions have arisen over what will become of a memorial garden there honoring 31 students who have died.
Many people in the community have a deep connection to the memorial, and some of its most important pieces have been put into storage while the district pursues the massive expansion project that calls for 18 new classrooms, major additions to the gym and cafeteria, a new courtyard and other improvements to ease the strains of growing enrollment.
District officials say they’re only storing some of the items from the memorial garden to ensure they won’t be damaged by heavy equipment moving to and from the construction site. Plans are to reinstall all the pieces in about the same locations sometime this summer, when construction is expected to be complete, before the start of the 2018-19 school year.
“That is a very important place for all our students and staff,” district spokeswoman Julie McCluskie said Wednesday, explaining that during the design phase careful attention was paid to avoid disturbing the garden and to preserve the land on which it sat.
However, crews soon noticed that getting heavy equipment in and out could put some of the items in the garden at risk. As a result, the district decided to move the pieces temporarily for their protection.
“Those of us that have been here for the 20-plus years this school has been in existence have known some of the sad events that we’ve had and tragic loss of students, whether they were here in Summit High School or recently passed after graduating,” said principal Drew Adkins. “I think it is important to the community, and a big thanks to everyone involved in the creation of the memorial garden. It’s a great memorialization of the importance of those fallen Tigers, and we want to keep that going.”
The district broke ground on the multi-million dollar expansion at SHS last month. The project is being paid for by a measure passed by voters in November 2016, and it’s said to be tracking on schedule and within budget.
McCluskie said the district did not initially anticipate the memorial garden would be affected by the redo because the site was to remain undisturbed by the construction, but has since reached out to the families of students honored in the garden to keep them in the loop as construction kicks into high gear.
Adkins reiterated how important it was to the SHS community that the district planned around the memorial garden for the new construction, “and when we add the new gym, certainly anything that needed to be moved temporarily will be restored or improved,” he said.
The memorial garden stretches about 100 feet, lined by an arrangement of native trees, shrubbery and flowers. Students at the school proposed creating the memorial after seven of their classmates died from illness or accidents over a nine-month span in 1997-98.
Community donations paid for its construction, and by the time the memorial garden was ready for dedication in October 1999, another four students were recognized there, in addition to the original seven.
A large sculpture of butterflies perched on two open hands stands as a focal point in the garden, which also featured 13 ceramic tiles honoring individual students set into boulders when it was first built. Etched on each tile was the name of a student, his or her class year and artwork like butterflies, pinecones and roses.
Not long after, bronze plaques shipped in from a New York foundry replaced the tiles. Later, a second large plaque was added with the names of 10 more students. A decade after its dedication ceremony, a fundraising drive was held to help cover regular upkeep and pay for necessary repairs at the memorial. At the time, 23 students were honored there, but that number has since grown to 31.
The students memorialized at the garden range from the class of 1986 to more recent years. It is not exclusive to those who were attending Summit High School at the time of death, as one had transferred out of state and another had already graduated.
Generally, most of the students honored in the garden were no more than four years removed from having attended SHS at the time of their deaths.
To protect the items from the garden during the school’s expansion, the sculpture is being kept in a storage container where McCluskie said it will be “protected and preserved” until it can be reinstalled. “We don’t want anything damaged or destroyed, and that’s why we’re taking this precautionary step.”
Additionally, a handful of the boulders have been moved away from one of the corners where there was a concern they could be damaged to a less risky place while the work is underway.
“Once we return everything to its current state,” McCluskie continued, “we’ll work to do a rededication ceremony to remind everyone why it’s there, why it’s so important to our students and staff, and it will be a chance to honor those we’ve lost.”
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