Updated at 4:06 p.m.
WESTFIELD, NJ — Remembrance gardens, new walkways and seating areas to be added to Westfield High School’s courtyard will honor the school’s late principal Dr. Derrick Nelson.
Work on the renovations, which will include multiple gardens and gathering spaces, will begin next week, school officials said at Tuesday’s school board meeting. Nelson died in April 2019 following complications from his bone marrow donation to a boy in France.
“Dr. Derrick Nelson was a committed educator in Westfield who understood our students and was always a role model for all of us,” said Superintendent Margaret Dolan. “We’ve all talked about how can we continue his legacy, and how can we make sure we remember him and his work.”
Dolan said the idea for the courtyard revamp came from a survey the district sent to students and staff last year. This idea was selected because of Nelson’s connections to the space, she said.
“When Derrick became principal, he started the tradition of having a welcome back barbecue in the courtyard for staff,” Dolan said, adding that the courtyard was also a place where Nelson would get to know his students. “He would come into the courtyard at lunchtime when the kids were there.”
District architect George Duthie presented plans for the project to the board.
The district intends to complete the project in two phases, Duthie said. The first phase, which is to begin next week, will include construction of the remembrance garden and the commons, as well as electrical work, he said. The second phase will include the development of additional gardens, walkways and seating areas, Duthie said.
School Business Administrator Dana Sullivan said the work on the first phase will be done after school is dismissed at 12:40 p.m., and on Wednesdays when in-person instruction is not taking place. This phase is expected to be completed in November, Sullivan said. The second phase is expected to be started and completed next summer, she said.
Earlier this month, school board approved $400,120 in addition to $40,200 in architect's fees for the project, according to the district.
Officials discussed the possibility of holding an unveiling ceremony in the spring, after the first phase of construction is completed.
“I would think we would do some kind of unveiling, assuming we can, probably in the spring,” Sullivan said. “Our intent would be for the students to be able to use it next spring.”
Dolan said she had written to Nelson’s fiancé to inform her that the renovations are beginning.
Several board members expressed their support for the decisions to renovate the courtyard in Nelson’s honor.
“I think it’ll be really nice for the kids that are still at the high school that had derrick nelson as their principal,” said Michael Bielen, who chairs the board’s facilities committee. “To just go there, and see the memorial, and know that he is being remembered for many years to come.”
“Not only is this a memorial to Derrick, a place that he loved, but it’s also a great addition to our school,” said board President Peggy Oster. “I hope that people find it as a special place to remember Derrick.”
“I think it’s a great thing that we’re going to be able to do for the kids at the high school to have a great space like this,” said board Vice President Amy Root. “Kids will be able to enjoy for years and know that it’s because of Derrick.”
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