SOUTHWICK (Westfield News) – The donor making a new track at Southwick-Tolland-Granville Regional High School a reality has finally been revealed.
The Steven and Elizabeth Nielsen Gift Fund has made a donation of approximately $500,000 for the track. Steven Nielsen is a STGRHS graduate who Superintendent John Barry said “has never forgotten” where he came from.
Nielsen also funds the Atkinson Scholarship, one of the largest scholarships given to a student at the high school. Named after longtime math teacher and track coach Dick Atkinson, the scholarship awards $7,500 each year for four years of college to a STGRHS junior.
Barry said Atkinson is a legend at the school and was Nielsen’s math teacher and coach. And, apparently, someone who inspired the philanthropist. Atkinson is still inspiring students today.
“Everyone knows Dick Atkinson,” said Barry. “We was recently honored for 50 years of service to the school. Even after he retired from teaching, he continued as a coach and he still coaches today.”
Nielsen, who lives in Florida, approached Barry about building a new track last fall.
“We kept the donor anonymous until now because we wanted to make sure it was really happening,” said Barry, who also credited the Community Preservation Commission for its $150,000 contribution to the track, as well as town residents who approved the funds at Town Meeting.
Barry said even after Town Meeting, Nielsen remained anonymous until bids were opened and they knew they could afford the track with the funds they had.
Barry said it was a very generous donation, and an unusual one.
“You rarely hear about donations like this to a public school,” he said. “These are the types of things usually given to private schools.”
Nielsen’s funds have already been put to use. Construction is well underway at the track, which was already named for Atkinson and will likely be re-dedicated to him upon completion.
“The stands are down and they’re now excavating the old track,” said Barry. “They are preparing for the subsurface.”
Barry expects the track will be complete by mid-September.