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New Duxbury school ‘built for 21st century learning’

Duxbury puts finishing touches on its new $128 million facility for grades 8 through 12

One of many hydration stations.

One of many hydration stations.

Smartboards have been replaced with interactive projectors. All water fountains are “hydration stations,” which can also fill water bottles.

The 525-foot corridor down the center of the building has a terrazzo floor, designed with the aid of satellite photos to resemble Duxbury’s distinctive barrier beach.

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And despite the misgivings of Town Meeting, the railings on the upper floors are still 42 inches high.

These are some of the features of Duxbury’s new $128 million middle and high school, which is connected to the performing arts center on the site that used to be middle school fields. Workers are putting on the finishing touches in time for the ribbon cutting at 2 p.m. on Aug. 28 and the start of classes on Sept. 2.

“It’s built for 21st-century learning. Kids are going to collaborate, they are going to work, they have Internet access to go all over the world, and we foster that,” said Superintendent Ben Tantillo, while leading a tour of the building late last month.

These goals, he said, would be promoted at the new school through such means as giving each student in grades 8 through 12 an 11-inch MacBook Air and encouraging them to work in team spaces — open areas with couch seating outside of classrooms.

The middle school and the high school occupy separate areas on one side of the complex. The shared facilities, such as the cafeteria, presentation hall, and libary, are on the other side. A corridor with a three-story atrium runs through the middle.

The building, which will house nearly 1,900 students, was five years in the making. Tantillo and Elizabeth Lewis, chairwoman of the School Building Committee, said it was designed with input from educators, community members, and students.

“This has really been step-by-step, the vision the community established,’’ Lewis said. “It’s pretty exciting.’’

Tantillo and Lewis said work will continue over the next year, as the old middle and high schools are demolished and replaced with athletic fields.

The state is picking up 45 percent of the cost of the project, partly because the town met certain environmental and maintenance criteria, Lewis said. She said the facility is green, meaning it incorporates such efficiencies as sun shades on the outside of the windows and sun shelves on the inside, which help redirect the incoming light and save on electricity. It’s part of a “daylight harvesting” concept, said Lewis, an engineer.

She said the building is also equipped with a “displacement air system,” which acts as a supersized dehumidifier, so the building is not as hot as it might otherwise be. The air is circulated from the floor upward, producing a “chimney effect,” she said.

“It’s a very functional building,’’ said Tantillo. “It’s smartly designed.”

The new facility will cost local taxpayers an estimated $98.1 million over 25 years, including borrowing costs, said finance director John Madden. He said about $13 million was saved because the town’s bond rating was upgraded to AAA a few years back, reducing the interest rate on the borrowing to 2.5 percent from an estimated 4 percent.

Taxpayers already have begun paying for the school debt, and the amount will decrease each year. In 2014, the school debt added about $1.63 of property tax per $1,000 of assessed value; in 2015, that will decrease to $1.58, he said.

“It was really the best way to do this construction with the least impact on the town,’’ said Lewis.

While some residents had preferred the town rehab the middle and high schools, which were built in the 1960s, others argued that building co-located schools from scratch was more economical with less disruption. Construction was performed by Dimeo Construction Co., headquartered in Providence, R.I., with Boston-based KVAssociates Inc. acting as the owner’s project manager.

Another area of debate was the height of the railings on the second and third floors, overlooking the atrium. A vote at Town Meeting in March urged school officials to reconsider and make the railings higher than the 42-inch minimum required by building code.

School officials decided to stay at 42 inches.

“There is no data to substantiate the need to go any higher than that,’’ Lewis said. She said if students wanted to climb or throw something over a railing, they could do that with higher railings as well.

Tantillo said some students are insulted at the idea that they are so immature as to require higher railings.

But resident Bob Doyle maintains that the quarter-mile of railings is not safe. “If nothing is done to correct it, we could have a serious accident,” he said.

Dennis Daly, lead architect for the project at Mount Vernon Group Architects, said he respected Doyle’s right to his opinion as a concerned resident. “I presented his concerns to the committee, and the committee chose to keep with the code-worthy design that was in place,” said Daly, who has lived in Duxbury for 20 years.

Tantillo said calls from parents have asked when the students will get their computers (it will be late August), not about the railings.

“I really believe the community is going to be very pleased when they come in here,” Tantillo said.

Other features of the building include a café area, a 3-D printer, and airport-like bathrooms, with doorless entrances and blower hand dryers.

Daly said his favorite feature may be the central terrazzo floor, which he helped design and gives the school a unique Duxbury touch.

According to Leslie Carrio of DePaoli Mosaic Co., the floor uses marble chips, mother of pearl from seashells, and glass aggregate, and is a low-maintenance surface expected to last up to 100 years.

Daly also noted the symbolic placement of the images. The public spaces — gym, cafeteria, black box theater — are along the floor’s bay side, while learning will take place along the bluer ocean side, representing exploration and the unknown.

“I thought it made for a great metaphor,” he said.

Jean Lang can be reached at jeanmcmillanlang@gmail.com
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