School dedicates courtyard to former sculpture teacher


Photo Credit: Christine Nappi

Students stroll around the courtyard as they walk by the outdoor classroom, pergola, sculptures and various plants. The courtyard was redone for the new school year and was dedicated to former art teacher, Norma Klau.

by Christine Nappi, Copy Editor

One Halloween morning, art teacher Norma Klau handed her husband Barry Klau a roll of saran wrap in the midst of getting ready for school. Confused by the nature of his wife’s action, he began to unravel the saran wrap as he watched her tuck the wrap into her waistband, and spin circle, after circle until the material was snugly surrounding her from the waist down. Homemade fins, a green top, and long blonde wig completed her look as she waddled around all day as a mermaid. As Klau describes, she was very creative: a flamboyant, outgoing soul who loved sculpture.

The new sculpture garden, also known as the remodeled courtyard, was added to the school this past summer to honor Norma, after she passed away in October 2016.

My wife, the courtyard, the location, the art sculptures, it all fit like a glove.

— Barry Klau

“She taught sculpture in the high school and she loved sculpture,” Klau said. “We thought instead of doing a scholarship fund we would dedicate and make a sculpture garden in my wife’s name.”

After 38 years of teaching, Norma retired in 2008 to help take care of her new granddaughter. Klau knew she would really miss her job, so he assembled a scholarship in her name, giving the school $5,000. When she passed, Klau thought about donating another scholarship fund, but decided to coordinate the remodel of the courtyard as a dedication instead. Klau describes himself as being “ready for a challenge,” so when the idea struck him, he was determined to make his dream a reality, regardless of the obstacles he may encounter.

Although Klau was ready for a fight, he found others to be sympathetic and supportive of the idea. According to Klau, fellow supporters described dedicating a remodeled courtyard to Norma as “meant to be.”

“People liked the idea,” Klau said. “My wife, the courtyard, the location, the art sculptures, it all fit like a glove.”

Photo Credit: Deborah Cella
Former art teacher Norma Klau poses for a photo. After Klau passed away last October, the renovated courtyard was dedicated to her for she taught at the high school for 38 years.

An outdoor classroom, various wind sculptures, a pergola, and a bubble rock water fountain were added to the courtyard as well as new plants and flowers.

The process for renovating the courtyard began when Klau met with close friend and former colleague of Norma, art teacher Deborah Cella. They then proposed the idea to Principal John Arlotta who advised them about the current use of the courtyard.

“We had talked about the fact that we do use it for lunch, so we wanted to try to make sure that didn’t change anything,” Arlotta said.

Once former superintendent Paula Valenti was on board with the project, the final step in getting permission to completing it was getting it approved by the Board of Education (BOE). Although the idea was solely through donation, according to Arlotta, the BOE needed to accept the donation, which they did, allowing the team to follow through with constructing in the courtyard.

According to Arlotta there were certain regulations that needed to be met pertaining to the construction. They had to work with the town and meet building codes to make sure the structures in the courtyard would be sturdy. Engineers were involved to create cement footings for the pergola and wind sculptures, and electricians inspected the water fountain feature. Arlotta explained that construction regulations are similar to renovating a house.

The project cost over $60,000, and was met by Klau and a donation from the Home and School Association (HSA).

Klau and Cella, along with other organizers, had meetings to brainstorm what the remodeled courtyard would look like.  

“We discussed what we thought would be good for the school community to make it a more useable space, so we started talking about an outdoor classroom,” Cella said. “The thinking was that it become more user friendly for students to be out there.”

To get the actual design, three landscape vendors were brought in. They proposed their ideas on the design of the courtyard.

The company Landscapeworks, with locations in Hawthorne, Morristown, and Hackensack, was chosen to complete the project. President of Landscapeworks Nelson Lee presented a project proposal to the BOE as well as Klau.

Klau said that Silvester Pinelli, who works for Landscapeworks, brought creativity to the design. They discussed multiple ideas and options, from the types of plants to be used to the angle of the stone benches in the outdoor classroom.

The entire process for assembling the sculpture garden took about six months to complete with getting permits, funding, designing and ordering supplies. The sculpture garden was still missing the pergola when the school year began on Sept. 5, but it was soon completed once the pieces to the pergola arrived from Arizona.  

“I’m just happy I was able to create this beautiful space for you guys,” Lee said. “Future generations will be able to enjoy it forever.”

In addition to the sculptures and structures, a performing area has been reserved so the school will be able to continue hosting music performances such as “Glen Stock.”

“It’s a very healthy space,” Cella said. “It’s important with the stress of academics that people have a nice place to relax and chill out.”

A Google Docs page has been created for those looking to reserve the space for their classes. According to Cella there are many people who want to use the outdoor space, and there are multiple places for classes to go.

“It’s really pretty,” Senior Emily Males said. “I feel like other parts of the school can follow suit and beautify just to make our eight hours at school a little nicer to experience.”

Arlotta said he would like to “continue to enhance” the space in the courtyard by adding another table and creating another patio area to get the tables off the grass.

Other dedications similar to the Norma Klau sculpture garden have been created in the past. A garden surrounding the flagpole in the Hamilton Circle was dedicated to former media center technician Virginia James, who worked at the high school for 34 years and was part of the school’s first graduating class of 1959.

There was a dedication ceremony in the courtyard for the new sculpture garden on Oct. 22, when a plaque was revealed describing and commemorating Norma.

In the future, Klau intends to bring his grandkids to the courtyard and enjoy the atmosphere that was created for his wife. He once calculated that Norma taught over 4,500 students and believes that the sculpture garden will benefit students of the past, present and future.

According to Cella, Norma loved teaching art and working with students. Her car license plate was GRHS because of her love for the school.  

“I really welled up when I saw a whole bunch of kids sitting out there, and teachers teaching,” Klau said. “There they are, sitting outside, enjoying the fresh air and sitting there all because of my wife.”

Photo Credit: Christine Nappi
Barry Klau poses with his family next to the plaque that dedicates the courtyard to his wife, former art teacher Norma Klau. The plaque was unveiled on Oct. 22 and describes Norma’s legacy, as well as why the courtyard was dedicated to her.