EDISON, NJ – Nearly 14 months after James Monroe Elementary School burned to the ground, school and local officials broke ground on the original site where the new elementary school is going to be built.

Superintendent of Edison Schools, Dr. Richard O'Malley, greeted the crowd of dignitaries and spectators who came to witness the groundbreaking for the new James Monroe Elementary School at 7 Sharp Road on Friday, May 15.

Flying above the crowd was the original American flag from the old Monroe. President of the Student Council, Marina Mirov, led the Pledge of Allegiance as the festivities commenced.

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“It has been a little over a year since we lost Monroe. Hard times will always reveal who your true friends are.” O'Malley noted that in his opening remarks

He then recognized Middlesex County College President Joann LaPerla-Morales, who made the first call to O'Malley the night of March 22, 2014, when the elementary school was smoldering. She offered buildings on the MCC campus to the Edison district so that the students could continue their education uninterrupted. Within two days of the fire, the Monroe children resumed their classes on the college campus.

O'Malley expressed gratitude to Mayor McCormack of Woodbridge and the Diocese of Metuchen for preparing Saint Cecilia's Elementary School for the fall of 2014. The Monroe students will continue in that building until September of 2016 when the new building is scheduled to be completed.

Board of Education President Veena Iyer commented on what a beautiful day it was for a groundbreaking. “Thank you to Middlesex County College, to Saint Cecilia's, and to the outpouring of support from across the country. It was most important for our children to always feel safe and most importantly, to stay together.”

Principal Lynda Zapoticzny also emphasized how important it had been for the children and school community to remain a complete student body throughout the ordeal. She stated, “The emotional energy here today is almost palpable. We've talked about the night of the fire, when Dr. O'Malley promised that James Monroe would be rebuilt. Due to the tenacity of the Dr. O'Malley and the Board of Education, we have been able to stay together as a community, and that has made all the difference.”

Zapoticzny thanked Brian McGrath, principal of Herbert Hoover Middle School and his staff for overseeing the Monroe students daily during the latch key period, and she praised the parents for their patience and understanding. “But the unsung heroes in this story,” she stated, “are the staff of James Monroe, who have been busy weaving a cohesive tapestry for our school.”

Zapoticzny expressed gratitude to the Edison community for passing the $18.6 million dollar referendum to build the new school. Currently the school district is involved in a law suit with the insurance company, New Jersey School Insurance Group, who has provided $9.5 million for the building, which is not enough to cover the projected cost of $28 million. However, the passage of the referendum guaranteed that the groundbreaking for the new school could take place.

Other dignitaries who were present to witness the event were Edison Mayor Thomas Lankey, Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey, Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr., D-18th District, members of the Edison Board of Education, town council members Robert Karabinchak and Michael Lombardi, and ETEA President Jeff Bowden.

Perhaps the most excited “dignitaries” present were the children, wearing blue and white James Monroe teeshirts and white hardhats, who had come to witness the beginning of a new era for their educational experience. Staff members stood behind the youngsters, grinning at the children's enthusiasm.

James Monroe Elementary School had conducted an essay contest, asking the students what they were most excited about regarding their new school. Three youngsters were chosen to share their thoughts with the audience. Kyle Alviar, a third gade student, whose class will be the first to graduate from the new building stated, “I am excited to see what our new school will have in store for us. I know that when we return to James Monroe, the building will have been through a lot---just like us.”

Meo Howard, another third grader, caused a ripple of laughter through the crowd with her statement, “I am pleased that our school is being rebuilt. I will no longer have to wake up at 6:00 in the morning and have to be squeezed into a bus to go to school!”

The most detailed essay was read by Sivamurugan Velmurugan, who detailed the specifics of what the new building would include. “I will be honored to be attending this beautiful new school,” he declared. “I am looking forward to the large classrooms, the new computer system, the air conditioning. I can't wait for the day when the new James Monroe school will be open.”

With the bulldozer waiting in the background to begin the actual digging, Principal Zapoticzny concluded the event by commenting that while the students are still displaced, they are looking forward to the future. “Standing here today, at 7 Sharp Road, makes true the adage, there really is no place like home.” Construction is projected to be completed by August of 2016.