WHS Courtyard to Be Redesigned In Memory of Dr. Derrick Nelson

For The Leader/Times

WESTFIELD — The Westfield High School courtyard will be redesigned in memory of the late principal Dr. Derrick Nelson. Dr. Nelson passed away in April 2019 from complications related to his donating bone marrow to a teenage 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, Ed.D., during Tuesday’s virtual meeting.

Last year, the administration surveyed the high-school students and staff on how the district could honor Dr. Nelson. “One suggestion that kept on coming up focused on the courtyard,” the superintendent said. Dr. Nelson used to hold a welcome back barbecue for the staff in the courtyard as a “way to build camaraderie in a large school with a large staff.”

Students remembered him joining them during lunchtime there “as a way to get to know” them, Dr. Dolan said.

“We are envisioning a warm and welcoming area where the school community can gather, reflect, bond and remember Derrick,” said architect George Duthie of Fraytak, Veisz, Hopkins and Duthie, P.C.

A common area will be at the center of the courtyard. This will be a space with tables where students can eat or work. The tables will be under a canopy of blue and white shade sails depicting Westfield’s school colors.

Also planned is a flat, grassy knoll for students to gather in a less formal setting, which could possibly be used for an outdoor class. There additionally will be a rain garden with an overlook, which also will include seating. The rain garden, Mr. Duthie said, “will be full of life.”

A separate, zen-style remembrance garden will have benches, an overhead pergola, a flagpole and a memorial for Dr. Nelson. Mr. Duthie said the memorial element has yet to be decided.
Phase one of the project is scheduled to begin next week. Electrical infrastructure will be laid out for lighting features throughout the courtyard, as well as underground conduits for future technology, according to Mr. Duthie. The courtyard also will be made more handicap accessible, with barriers, such as stairs, being converted to ramps.

Contractors will work from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. — after students leave for the day — and on Wednesdays when all high-school students are learning virtually, according to Dana Sullivan, Westfield Public Schools business administrator. Ms. Sullivan said Phase One of the project is expected to be finished in mid-November. Phase Two, which is still in the planning stages, is projected to be completed in the summer of 2021.

In addition to being utilized throughout the school day, the courtyard will host evening events and possibly more barbecues, said Mr. Duthie. Ms. Sullivan said that there will eventually be an unveiling ceremony but that no details are planned yet.

Many board members praised the plans. Amy Root, board of education vice-president, called it “a hidden gem inside the school.”

“Not only is this a memorial to Derrick in a place that he loved, but it’s also a great addition to our school,” added Board President Peggy Oster.

Superintendent Dolan announced that Patricia Merlo, a former first-grade teacher from Jefferson Elementary School, died earlier this week from a non-Covid-19 related illness.

“Trish was the first-grade teacher you would want your child to have,” the superintendent said. “She deserves to be remembered for years for all the lives that she’s touched.”

The next board of education meeting will be on Tuesday, October 6. Ms. Oster said that the time and location for the meeting are still being determined.

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