SULLIVAN — In Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24), plans are underway for a new combination high school/middle school that has everything but a name.
In June, voters approved a $44-million project to replace the existing Sumner Memorial High School with a new, two-story building that will accommodate up to 500 students.
The 105,342-square-foot building will include 26 general classrooms, five science classrooms, 13 collaboration rooms, three industrial arts classrooms, an enclosed open-air courtyard, a high school gym along with a separate middle school gym, a learning commons, a cafeteria and kitchen and a performance space with a stage. The middle school classrooms and collaboration rooms will be located on the second floor.
Construction of the new school near the existing Sumner building is set to begin in July 2020. But what should it be called?
A 14-member naming committee comprised of students, staff, alumni and community members has been tasked with making that decision, said its chairwoman, Nikki Chan, who also serves as the RSU 24 curriculum director.
The committee met for the first time Oct. 22 and will meet monthly until the job is done, she said. At their November meeting, committee members put together surveys asking members of the community for input.
“We definitely want to make sure everyone who has an opinion has a chance to voice it to us,” Chan said.
Three different surveys have been developed for students, including one for those in grades 10-12, who will graduate before the new school opens in the fall of 2022; another for students in grades six to nine, who will be high school students when the new school opens; and a third for students in grades three to five, who will be middle school students when the new building opens.
A separate survey has been created for members of the public. A link to it appears on the RSU 24 website at www.rsu24.org. Paper copies are also available at each of the town offices within the district, Chan said. Respondents filling out paper surveys can leave them at their town offices. District representatives will collect them Dec. 9 to be analyzed at the committee’s Dec. 10 meeting.
The short survey seeks input on two main issues — whether the high school and middle schools should have separate names and whether to keep the name Sumner in some form. The last question allows respondents to add comments.
The current high school was named for Dr. Charles Sumner, a physician who came to Sullivan in about 1934 or 1935.
“Looking anxiously forward to the education of his children, and seeing the need of a better school system for the good of the town in general, he became much interested in the improvement of the schools and did much study to that goal,” reads an excerpt of the book “Sullivan and Sorrento Since 1760” by Lelia A. Clark, published in 1953.
The excerpt was part of a presentation to the naming committee made Oct. 22 by member Vern Campbell, who is a Sumner alumnus, teacher and local historian.
“The history part was really important for all of us to think about,” Chan said.
Sumner was elected to the school board in 1947 and began advocating for a new regional high school. Groundbreaking for it took place in July 1951.
Sumner died suddenly Feb. 14, 1952. Later that month, the board chose to call the building “The Sumner High School.” Construction was completed in July 1952, the book states.
Sumner believed that a school serving multiple towns would mean students would have more opportunities and receive a better education, Chan said.
“He was very interested in pulling the community together for the importance of education,” she said. “We are continuing that.”