Less than a month before the school year starts, the opening date of Quincy’s new Central Middle School is in doubt.
During a late-July tour, the walls sported large gaps where windows were to be installed, and the flooring in the administrative wing was speckled cement. Ceilings in the three floors of classrooms were skeletal, and the auditorium was merely an amalgamation of steel, cement, and drywall.
Of the punch-list items, contractor H.V. Collins Co. promises that everything except the gym and auditorium will be finished by Sept. 5. But that may be too tight a timeline for students to be in their classrooms for the first day of school on Sept. 4.
“There certainly is maybe a situation where we will not be beginning school at the new building, and we’ll start the school year at the old Central building until such time that we do really know [the new] building is student-ready,” Superintendent Richard DeCristofaro said early this month.
Since construction began last summer, officials have said the $32.1 million school would be ready for the start of the 2013-2014 school year.
But for the last two weeks, the starting date has been discussed by DeCristofaro, Mayor Thomas Koch, contractors, and project managers. The superintendent is expected to announce a decision in the next few days.
Officials for H.V. Collins and project management company Tishman Construction Corp. did not return calls seeking comment, but according to mayoral spokesman Christopher Walker, the timeline for construction has always been tight.
“Realistically, as we said from the beginning, this is a tremendously aggressive schedule,” Walker said. “You’re talking about building a brand new facility for 600 students in under a year.”
Still, Walker stressed that the school will be move-in ready when construction is complete. New furniture has been purchased for all the classrooms and administrative areas, and all new technology will be installed. The only things to cart over will be books.
DeCristofaro, however, said moving into a new building requires more than completing the construction.
“There are also things that need to happen,” DeCristofaro said. “Training in areas of [heating and air conditioning], training in the instructional [technology], phone systems, communication network, a lot of different areas you don’t think about.”
Beyond that, the biggest hurdle to moving in at the start of September will be the preparedness of the staff and student body.
“As we talk about a transition for our teaching staff, custodial staff, kitchen staff, I also think it’s critical that our students [and parents] have the opportunity to walk around that school as teachers prepare,” DeCristofaro said.
Central School principal Jennifer Fay-Beers said she is ready for anything.
“I’m prepared as long as we’re not rushed into anything,” she said.
And as for a possible delay, she added: “It gives us more time to transition, which is great.”
After running a 119-year-old building, Fay-Beers joked that she is quite familiar with back-up plans. Teachers have even kept a month’s worth of curriculum easily accessible in case the opening is pushed back.
“I don’t think a delay will be a huge surprise and I don’t think it will be a burden,” Fay-Beers said.
For School Committee member David McCarthy, who also chairs the School Facilities and Security Subcommittee, moving in later would be better than trying to cram 600 students into the building just for the sake of being on time.
“We wanted to get it right, we wanted to make sure everything is done — lights are on, doors are working, no issues,” he said.
Even if the doors did not open until October, “I think we’ll be able to deal with that,” he said.
The most eager to move in may be the teachers, who have spent months training in the new technology but do not know when they will get into the building to set up their classrooms.
“I’ve kind of come to terms with the fact that we might not be in there in September,” said seventh-grade special education teacher Laura Shea. “It’s concerning a bit because you like to start the year off fresh.”
After being in the old building for a decade, Shea said she and other Central teachers had grown accustomed to overcoming challenges.
“Everyone is reminding ourselves we’re getting this beautiful building. . . . ” Shea said. “[We] can’t be too disappointed.”
That silver-lining mentality is pervasive. School Committee vice chairwoman Barbara Isola said a transition would be “just fine,” regardless of when it occurs.
Even if students move in to a building that is not entirely complete, Kim Kroeger, the parent of a Central Middle School student, said she is excited for all the new building will eventually have to offer.
“Construction is so out of everyone’s control, I always just focus on the positive,” she said. “They are getting a great new school and they are very lucky.”
Jessica Bartlett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.