“It is a special day, a big moment and a great day to be a Pierce County Bear!”
School superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith opened with those remarks at Friday’s historic grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Pierce County High School.
Despite cold, damp, dreary weather outside, the atmosphere was sunny and bright inside as the school’s 525 seat auditorium was filled to capacity for the ceremony.
U.S. Congressman Buddy Carter, Governor Brian Kemp and State School Superintendent Richard Woods were joined by State Senator Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla), State Representative Steven Meeks (R-Screven) and State Board of Education Member Mike Long in officially opening the new school.
Congressman Carter, running a few minutes late after having arrived early Friday from Washington, DC, congratulated the entire Pierce County community on the completion of the new school.
“It shows the promise, vision and commitment of Pierce Countians to prepare their children for what lies ahead,” he said.
Governor Kemp received a standing ovation both before and after his remarks.
Kemp used humor to open his remarks sympathizing with PCHS seniors who will only get to spend six months in the new school.
“I know what you are thinking,” he said. “You are wondering why we didn’t build a new high school sooner.” He also apologized to students for them having to miss class to listen to him, although he pointed out it was probably still good to be out of class.
Kidding aside, Kemp also congratulated the community on the accomplishment of opening the new school.
The Governor touted the need for all citizens to work together to make education a priority. He touted his own administration’s efforts to fully fund QBE, to give teachers raises and to cut red tape and paper work and allow them to teach.
“The value of a good education can’t be measured. Teachers make an impact, education can lift a person out of poverty and allow them to reach their full God-given potential in this world,” Kemp said.
The Governor also took a microphone glitch in stride during his remarks and could still be heard throughout the auditorium, even without sound.
Woods remembered his days as both a student and a teacher, and recalled the excitement of opening a new school in his hometown of Ocilla.
“I remember when I visited here and this new school was just a patch of dirt,” he said. “We are not in the old prison any more.”
The line drew laughs, since the old PCHS has long been compared to a prison.
“Today is not just about opening a new building, though. It is about a new era, a time of opportunities for students. It’s investing in our young people and our future. This is a bold step today. Pierce County is looking forward. The new high school says our best days are ahead,” Woods said.
After the remarks, Carter, Kemp, Woods, Dr. Smith, board members and elected officials joined together on stage to cut the official “Pierce County Blue” ribbon to signify the ceremonial opening of the school. A small glitch with the ceremonial scissors was easily overcome as the ribbon was cut amidst laughter from the governor and other officials.
Debates about what constitutes Pierce County blue occurred throughout the construction process of the new school.
Dr. Smith gave the welcome and introduced all the special guests including current board of education members, Chairperson Linda Zechmann and board members Duward Boatright, Chip Griner, Jack Saussy and Mitch Hall and Congressman Carter, Governor Kemp and Superintendent Woods. Additionally, former superintendents Terri DeLoach, Dr. Joy Williams, Don Spence and Dr. W.D. Strickland were on hand as well as scores of local officials from the county and local cities. DeLoach was specifically recognized for her work during her administration in making the new PCHS a reality.
The Pierce County High School Chorus performed the National Anthem. The Sound of Silver Band also performed before and after the ceremony. Representatives from various student organizations and groups were also among the invited guests.
High school principal Dara Bennett gave closing remarks noting that the new school would educate the county’s future leaders for decades to come.
Refreshments followed in the cafeteria.
The new PCHS officially opened to students and staff following the Christmas break.
The $29.523 million school features 64 classrooms and 185,000 square feet