PATERSON, NJ - State, local, and school officials gathered on Wednesday to officially break ground on the new Union Avenue Middle School.

Slated to open in September, 2021, the four-story educational facility on the site of the former Don Bosco Tech will accommodate approximately 1,100 students from 6th to 8th grade. With 36 classrooms, nine science labs, six special education classrooms, three art rooms, three science/math/tech project labs, six small group instruction rooms, an occupational therapy room, physical therapy sensory room, cafetorium, stage/dance studio, gymnasium, music/instrument room, a computer lab and media center, the school is being built, according to officials, to address Paterson’s overcrowding issues.

Manuel Da Silva, Interim CEO of the New Jersey School Development Authority (NJSDA), spoke of the “inviting education spaces” and “tools for the future” that will be included inside the new school, all designed to give the students that will attend an education that is “better than imagined.”

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Though construction actually began in July the Wednesday event, Superintendent Eileen Shafer said, served as an “affirmation” that “Paterson Public School is working to provide children and families a "thorough and efficient education.”

Offering a reminder that 18 of Paterson’s current school buildings are more than 100 years, and the oldest opened in 1878, Shafer lamented that “we cannot educate 21st century students in 19th century schools.”

While several other elected officials, including Mayor Andre Sayegh, Senator Nellie Pou, Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, and Board of Education President Oshin Castillo, would speak enthusiastically, it was six fifth graders in attendance that are poised to benefit the most.

Anowara, Liliana, Nazib, Md, Dwayne, and Caylee, all expected to be part of the incoming class of seventh graders when doors open, each donning hard hats, shared that they were excited and happy to be part of the historic event.

In addition to being a better place to learn important subjects like science and math, Caylee suggested that the new middle school will “be an excellent place to make new friends.”

Each smiled when asked about their current studies, sharing that theirs, Mr. Cecala, is the “best teacher.”

“He makes science and math fun,” Liliana said. “Every day I wake up excited to come to school because he puts a smile on my face,” Anowara added.

In addition to being excited learners, the students, including two aspiring doctors, a future rapper, a software engineer, and a firefighter, are also ambitious, set, as Deputy Superintendent Susana Perón said at a previous event on the project, “to build a great society.”