The late Joseph A. Gregori went to the Gregori High ribbon cutting in spirit Tuesday — in speeches, in stanzas, with staff members who cherished his memory and cheerleaders who shouted his name.
Gregori High School broke Modesto's longstanding tradition of only naming schools after living educators, trustee Steve Grenbeaux said. Everyone there seemed to think that was right.
"When they were talking about names, someone said Gregori and that was it," said district administrator Emily Lawrence, who grew up living next door to Gregori.
School board member Sue Zwahlen said that decades ago the proposed northern high school was just called "Salida High" by a committee drawing high school boundaries.
"Joe (Gregori) was on that committee with me, too," she recalled with a sad smile.
Gregori was principal when Julie Carota was in high school. Now Carota runs the library-media center fronting the school, and she said working at his namesake high school "just feels right."
Modesto's newest school includes 14 buildings — 276,000 square feet, said Phil Mastagni, president of builder Acme Construction Co. He estimates costs will come in about $4 million under his company's $118.5 million contract. At one point, Mastagni said he had more than 500 workers on the site.
The campus's total cost topped $140 million, making it the second-most expensive high school in the state opening this year.
The Mastagni family donated two baseball and two softball dugouts. Jeff Foster donated the scoreboard, the contractor said.
The result is a beautiful school "that feels and looks like a college campus," Trustee Kim Spina said.
"What a wonderful legacy," Gregori's widow, Lori Gregori Bell, told the crowd of dignitaries, staff, students and parents. School teams in full uniform and the Jaguar mascot sat to the side.
In "The Gregori Poem," written by Gillian Wegener and read by teacher Joe Orlando, "the day begins with a tremendous jaguar leap into the future."
Today is that day for a school three years and one lifetime in the making.
The books are shelved, the classrooms stand ready. Now it's up to the students to do Gregori proud, said staff member Mike Vander Molen.
"My challenge to you is to help us bring this school to life," Vander Molen said.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2339.