Henry later recalled the school's early days 32 years ago when a small lane and overgrown stone walkway led to an old farm house and some outbuildings.
"I remember wondering what we wanted with that," Henry said. "It's exciting to see what we're going to have."
Although the ceremony was planned as a celebration, the mood was affected by the death of Principal Sharon Hooper Neubauer, who died in a head-on collision on Nov. 15. Several school officials said she had been looking forward to the ground-breaking.
"It's been a difficult time for all of us," said Cedar Lawn Administrator David Swacina. "But this is the way she would want it."
Plans call for a 10,400 square-foot gym and recreation center three times the size of the razed building. A second building, to be constructed next door, will house six classrooms, three offices, a library, kitchen and dining facility and computer lab. The project, including new roads, parking lots, and the development of a waste water treatment facility, will cost about $980,000. The school has received $780,000 from the insurance settlement and in gifts and pledges.
Before the fire, Cedar Ridge had a plan in place for a two-year, $2.5 million project to expand housing and to add multi-purpose rooms, secure-care units, an addition to the administration building, a special education complex and several ball fields. After the fire, plans were reworked and the project has become a so-called pre-phase to the three-phase plan.
Cedar Ridge Children's Home and School Inc. is a private, nonprofit organization consisting of a home for troubled and abused boys, a special education school, WCRH radio and Adventure Programs.