The culmination of a new school project in Abington has shown how dedication to one goal can benefit not only students in the classroom, but also the entire town and its future.
The 235,370-square-foot Abington Pre-K, Middle and High School came to fruition after years of cooperation between residents and school and state officials, opening ahead of schedule and on budget, administrators say.
The single facility, at 201 Gliniewicz Way near the site of the old high school, which is currently under demolition, will hold more than half the town’s 2,000 students.
The new building dramatically updates technology and other educational tools. It has two mirrored wings — one for the middle school’s nearly 700 students in grades 5 through 9 and another for the high school’s approximately 500 ninth- through 12th-graders. A separate, secured section of the building holds pre-kindergarten classrooms.
Those involved with the project say the town’s support made a statement about Abington as a whole, after requests were made over past decades from towns such as Holbrook to build a regional school. The new building is evidence of viability and independence, Abington officials say.
“This building project was an important decision in the life of the community,” School Superintendent Peter Schafer said recently while giving a tour to a visitor.
Designed by Ai3 Architects and project manager Knight, Bagge and Anderson, the building facilitates different levels of education, taking into account various teaching opportunities.
For example, administrators hope to have talented middle school students take high school-level courses. And by the same token, a teacher who has expertise in a subject can share knowledge with various age groups.
“I find that I am not going to need to go outside of this building for an answer to something that I might need,” said middle school principal Matthew MacCurtain, noting the wealth of information available in the building.
While staff members may share resources, middle and high school students do not often cross paths. The students do share an impressive and spacious library, whose floor-to-ceiling glass windows looking onto the bisecting corridor invite students into its learning environment.
“There’s a benefit for high school students sharing something like a library space with middle school students,” Schafer said. “We’re proud of the work our high school students are doing in the library. Our fifth- and sixth-grade students aren’t going to problem-solve with high school students, but having them in that very academic environment in a state-of-the-art media center, and having them see the level of work that is being done, is healthy and exciting.”
While some may worry about the range of student ages in the building, Schafer said for safety concerns there are 350 security cameras covering the building’s interior and exterior pathways and hallways.
“It’s part of updates in modern technology,” he said.
Computers, expanded Wi-Fi, and other tools have also been updated. A seminar room includes an interactive projector offering educators new teaching tools. With seating for 93 students, it has dial-out and Skype capability to conference with educational experts.
“This is more of a college seminar room, where you are able to do that satellite-distance learning, and bring the world into a larger experience,” Schafer said.
Other highlights include a fitness center and separate gyms for middle and high school students, a sun-filled dining area, and the town’s first true auditorium, with 750 seats.
“It’s lavish, really exquisite. I was inspired to learn,” said high school junior Fraser Toomey, remembering how he felt when he first entered the school.
As impressive as the new building is, even more remarkable is the additional contribution taxpayers made to ensure the school was built.
The project had a cost of $96.4 million, and the Massachusetts School Building Authority will pay up to nearly $50.2 million.
To help get community support for the project, a grass-roots effort was led by a parent group called A Better Community. A school building committee was formed, with members broadly representing the town.
In 2014, voters overwhelmingly passed a $46 million debt exclusion override to pay their portion of the building. The town assessor’s office says the local tax rate is now $18.35 per $1,000, up from $10.80 in 2007. Today, the tax bill is $5,920.88 on an average home, worth $322,488, based on sales figures from 2015.
With the support “comes a great feeling of responsibility to do this right for all of those groups and our students,” Schafer said. “We feel like we get one shot at this every 50 to 100 years, so we try to do it right.”
An added challenge for the project included redistricting and consolidating the school system. In addition to closing the old high school, built in 1962, two other Depression-era schools were closed. An existing school that previously housed other age groups now holds kindergarten through Grade 2 students, while another holds grades 3 and 4.
The realignment required new start times and hours and new bus schedules and routes.
“It was a smooth transition,” said Jeannette Libby, a parent attending a ribbon-cutting Sept. 16 whose children attend different schools in the town. “The beginning of the school year was not easy, but they handled it well.”
As a teacher in Hanover and a 1995 graduate of Abington High, she was impressed with the new school.
“I know how important infrastructure within education is, and I knew that this was going to be the best move possible for the Abington school system,” she said. “The building is just phenomenal.”
“I think it’s amazing,” said Deborah White, a 1988 graduate of Abington High attending the event. “My husband and I, we don’t have any children that are going to go to this school, but we absolutely thought it would be a great idea, so we were gung-ho for it.”
While she voted to support the project, she said her tax bill has doubled since she bought her home 12 years ago. “It hurts us dollarwise, but it’s a good investment.”
Her father, James LaRose, agreed. “Not too many people think of the future, and you have to when you’re in a close-knit community. Think of the next 20 years. It’s an amazing feat for the community, to build a building like this.”Kathy Kurtz Ferrari
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