FLORENCE — Florence Middle School Principal Kevin Wieseman has a motto that he shared today with an auditorium full of students in their new building: Protect the House, Protect the Name.

He urged the school's nearly 700 students to look around at the pristine surroundings and realize they're representing something greater than themselves.

"This was built for you (students) and treat it as a gift," Wieseman said. "Value this place and treat it respectfully. Know that in this setting these teachers are here to deliver a wonderful education for each of you, so embrace it all."

The opening of the new school marks the completion of a 20-month-long project on the campus of the former Coffee High School.

The 180,000 square-foot, $35 million facility delivered all it promised, according to the droves of excited students who entered for the first time at 7:40 a.m.

"I don't even know what to say about this place," said seventh-grader Memory Hopper. "There's a lot more room and it's not cold in here like the portable classrooms."

The city's seventh- and eighth-graders have been housed on the Hibbett School campus in modular units for more than 2 1/2 years.

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