NHS Class of 2013 to graduate at the Palace

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Members of Naugatuck High School’s Class of 2012 turn their tassels during graduation ceremonies at the school in June. Next year, graduation ceremonies will be held at the Palace Theater in Waterbury as the school undergoes renovations. –FILE PHOTO

NAUGATUCK — Naugatuck High School’s Class of 2013 will walk the same stage as acts such as comedians Kevin Hart and Gabriel Iglesias, and musician Morrissey.

The Board of Education voted to accept the recommendation of high school Principal Janice Saam to hold next year’s graduation ceremony at Waterbury’s Palace Theatre, during the board’s July 12 meeting.

The need to find a venue other than the high school for graduation came about because of the renovations that are slated to take place at the school.

The work is set to commence in March and, by the time the class of 2013 is graduating, the entire football field is scheduled to be torn up.

When Saam brought the idea of holding the graduation at the Palace to the board in June, not all of the board members were keen on that idea. Mayor Robert Mezzo voiced his concerns about holding graduation in a different town. He felt it was important to keep it local.

However, after looking into it, Mezzo reported back to the board that finding another spot in town would present problems.

“The results were we could do it. The green is probably the best location if we chose to do it. However, it would present some significant logistical issues for us,” Mezzo said.

When the board met in June, it asked Saam to poll students to get their opinion on where to have the graduation. She explained that, since it was during finals week, she was only able to poll around 80 students. Those polled, though, favored the Palace Theater.

“Overwhelmingly they were in favor of it,” Saam said.

Saam said she also asked parents what they thought about the move.

“Basically everyone said they understood that if it couldn’t be here the Palace was probably the best alternative,” Saam said.

She told the board that parents liked the fact that, once the date was set, it would not have to be changed due to inclement weather. This meant that families could make plans around that date.

“I didn’t get anyone who said no, they would be opposed to the Palace,” Saam said.

Board member Glenn Connan was concerned about the timing of the renovation project. He pointed out that the roof on Maple Hill Elementary School, which the board voted to repair in June of last year, hasn’t had the work start on it yet.

“What are we going to do if the high school becomes available because the work isn’t done,” Connan asked.

Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson explained that the money for the repairs slated to be done to Maple Hill’s roof comes from the town’s capital projects fund. The money for the repairs to the high school comes from its own fund.

“The high school renovation project is very much right on schedule. There’s no reason to believe, at this point, that the field won’t be completely torn up at graduation time next year,” Tindall-Gibson said.

Saam explained that the work on the field will affect the graduating classes of 2013 and 2014. She believes that the field should be finished for the graduating Class of 2015, but does not know if the parking lot will be finished. This means there is a chance the next three graduations will be held at the Palace. Saam said the baord does not need to make any decisions immediately, and can worry about each year as it happens.

The Palace gave Saam a two week window of dates for her to choose from. She does not have to request a specific date until April.

Saam told the Palace that, if the graduation date falls on a weekday, it needs to be after 6 p.m.

Saam told the board that, while the representative at the Palace couldn’t guarantee attendees will be able to park for free, based on what Waterbury has done in the past, there is a chance it will be.

“The ramp garage actually belongs to the city of Waterbury and the city has historically not charged for non-charging events at the Palace,” Saam said.

Although he was not enthusiastic to see Naugatuck residents graduating outside of town, Mezzo told the board what mattered most was that the graduates have a good time.

“I still find something distasteful about graduating Naugatuck students in Waterbury, but at the end of the day it’s about their experience and making memorable,” Mezzo said