WATERTOWN — With bright sunshine and a crowd of smiling local residents on hand, local and state officials beamed with pride as Watertown formally opened its new town hall on Echo Road on Sunday, August 30. “After many years of this day being a dream, now it’s a reality and I couldn’t be happier,” said Interim Town Manager John Gavallas, who served as Master of Ceremonies. The site of the former Watertown High and Heminway Schools officially became the new home to all town offices except the Water & Sewer Department.
Mr. Gavallas led a host of speakers who expressed their delight and praised the team effort required in completing the $11.9 million project, among them state Sen. Eric Berthel, R-32 and state Rep. Joseph Polletta, R-68.
“This is an historic day for our town,” said Sen. Berthel, “ and it should serve as a lesson that instead of tearing down good buildings which stand the test of time, we should seek to extend their lives and put them to good use, and here we are.”
Built in 1929, the renovated three-floor facility was approved in referendum by town voters who had long expressed displeasure with having outdated town offices spread throughout the area.
“It seemed like a long shot,” said Rep. Polletta of the plan to use the school as the new town facility, “but sometimes you have to dream big and work together, which everyone did, despite the odds and despite doing it in the middle of a pandemic.”
The size of the move alone was mind-boggling, as offices, including all of their records, furniture and equipment converged on the building. Departments moved several times within the building as work progressed, with completion marked with a soft opening in June.
“It’s been a long journey to get to here,” said Town Council Chairman and keynote speaker Tom Winn, who later cut an official red ribbon to the facility entrance.
“A job well done,” added Mr. Winn, who mentioned the key role played by former Town Managers Charles Frigon and Robert Scannell in seeing the project through its preliminary phases and seven-year duration.
“Without Chuck’s passion and vision for this project, I don’t believe it would have happened,” he added.
Prior to opening the facility for a socially-distanced open house, Mr. Winn said, “As you walk through the halls, I just hope you feel proud.”
Also on hand for his first official appearance as Interim Superintendent of Schools was Dr. John Ramos, who recently returned to his old position after the resignation of former Superintendent Dr. Rydell Harrison.
Dr. Ramos and the Board of Education will become occupants of the facility in a few weeks, settling into the old school gymnasium.
Former council member and Chairman of the Facilities Subcommittee Kace Duplissie also spoke in reverential terms of the one-stop town facility. She played a key role in searching for the facility.
“This is a beautiful, historic building, and I’m so happy that all the hard work put in has paid off for all us,” she said.
In his closing remarks, Mr. Gavallas said, “This has been a major undertaking for us, but in the end, it was worth it.”
After the speeches, Mr. Gavallas led a delegation to the front steps, and as Mr. Winn and council member Mary Ann Rosa cut the red ribbon, a new era in Watertown began as well as a new chapter in the life of an iconic building.