Salamanca school district opens new STEAM wing addition

As dozens look on in excitement, two student-operated robots move in to cut the ribbon and open the new STEAM wing addition of the Salamanca High School, marking the end of Phase I of the school district's ongoing capital project.

SALAMANCA — With each adult speaker at Friday morning's ceremony opening the new STEAM wing addition at Salamanca High School, a common theme began to emerge:

“I wish I was a student again.”

As the Salamanca City Central School District marks the end of Phase I of its ongoing capital project, students and teachers in science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics classes will soon occupy the modern spaces and begin making the future.

Dozens of school district administrators and staff, Board of Education members, local officials from the city, county, Seneca Nation and New York state and eager students gathered in the STEAM wing’s maker-space to cut the ribbon with a 21st-century STEAM twist.

Two student-operated, student-made robots rolled their way through the ribbon, opening the wing for all to explore.

“I am not only pleased — I am overjoyed that we are finally at this point,” said Robert Breidenstein, school district superintendent. “Following a vote in 2015 that didn’t go so well, with the community’s help, we revisited the idea of what our buildings need to look like and how we can transition into the 21st century.”

In November 2018, the school broke ground at the district’s nearby tennis courts, signaling the start of construction of the STEAM wing and the $27 million capital project. Since 2016, architects and contractors from HUNT AES and Turner Construction have been working with the school on not only this phase but building and planning the future phases of the project.

“Today, major construction is done on these rooms,” Breidenstein said. “We fully expect, within the next week, to start moving classes in and for instruction to begin with great enthusiasm.”

At the same time the district began looking at a new capital project, the high school was identified as a priority school by the state, explained Dr. Mark Beehler, assistant superintendent for academic services. With graduation rates so low, Beehler said rather than double-down on drilling lessons, the district decided to change its tactics on how and what students would learn.

“A portion of that plan involved heavy investment in science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, or STEAM education,” he said, “and that’s because it involves all disciplines to the creation of a better world and fosters transferable skills valuable to nearly every career path.”

Seneca Nation Tribal Councilor Arlene Bova said this project is not only important for the school but the Salamanca and Seneca Nation communities as a whole. In thinking about STEAM, she came up with another acronym for what it means to her.

“Salamanca Team, Everyone’s Aiming to Move,” Bova said. “That’s what we do here. We’re finally at that point where we’re moving.”

County Legislator Sue Labuhn addressed her comments directly to all the students and teachers, telling them to never stop asking for a better school. Although many other people made the final decisions for the STEAM wing construction, she said it’s here only because the students and teachers had the vision for what they wanted and requested it.

“We have come almost completely full-circle. There was a time when we were a gem shining and we’re back in that direction,” Labuhn added. “So please don’t stop doing what you’re doing.”

Representatives from the offices of Congressman Tom Reed (R-Corning), Assemblyman Joe Giglio (R-Gowanda) and State Sen. George Borrello (R-Irving) also spoke, expressing their pride in the district and the importance of STEAM for the students and their futures.

Following the ribbon-cutting ceremony, guests had the opportunity to explore the new classrooms and maker-spaces, seeing students demonstrate some of their robotic creations and learning about what the STEAM wing can allow them to do going forward.

Work for Phase II of the capital project is ongoing at Prospect Elementary School with major portions expected to be completed next summer. Plans for Phase III work, notably renovations at Veterans Memorial Park, are being submitted to the state for approval in the coming months.

(Contact managing editor Kellen Quigley at kquigleysp@gmail.com)