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New Natick High School ready for the public

The public will get its first look next week at the new $78.5 million Natick High School , completed on time and about $10 million under budget following two years of construction.

Residents can tour the new high school from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, the night before classes begin for Natick students. The district will also host an official ribbon-cutting ceremony at 6 p.m. Sept. 25 with elected officials and local celebrities.

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“Looking back, it’s been a long three years,” said Peter Sanchioni, superintendent of Natick’s school system. “We had to rely on a lot of people to get this to work, but no one let us down. The 1,500 students who walk in on the 29th will be the beneficiaries of that.”

The new high school is next to the site of its predecessor. That 58-year-old building was razed in June, making room for a new parking lot that is slated for completion by the end of this month, and athletic fields, which are to be finished by the spring.

Students and faculty complaining of the old building’s leaky roof, temperamental climate control, and outdated feel will be greeted by a 255,000-square-foot school equipped with technologically advanced classrooms, an 800-seat auditorium, a state-of-the-art gymnasium, and aesthetically pleasing architecture and décor.

“I am 100 percent confident that it will be a phenomenal facility for students and teachers, and that it will support top-notch learning,” said David Margil, the School Committee’s chairman.

Margil said architects designed the new building in a way that makes areas more centrally located, differing from the former school.

‘We’re moving into a future . . . where students will be learning in distributed environments, where they can collaborate not only in teams in school but also away from school.’

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“This is a much more compact design,” Margil said. “The old one was splayed out from the center, which wasn’t very centralized, so even when the building was in prime shape, it was expensive to heat because we had to pump hot air through a dispersed building.”

In addition to a more efficient design, the school boasts environmentally friendly features, including a gray-water system that collects and reuses storm runoff, rooftop gardens and solar panels, and HVAC systems that automatically adjust temperature according to a room’s number of occupants.

“These are huge savings in terms of energy,” Margil said.

The new high school, projected by architects to cost about $89 million, came in about $10 million lower due to economic factors, Margil said.

“The time we started going out for bid with contractors, construction costs were really low,” he said, adding that borrowing rates for loans the town took out on the project were also cheaper. “It couldn’t have been better because of the timing.”

Sanchioni said last winter’s relatively quiet conditions helped the construction finish on time.

“The mild weather was a boon for us,” Sanchioni said. “It kept things moving along, and put us in the position we are in today.”

With the project nearly complete, officials said, they are looking forward to employing the building’s new learning tools for Natick students. Margil said his favorites include a TV production room, wireless Internet access throughout the building, a distance-learning lab, and an in-house preschool to help interested students learn about early childhood education.

Margil also said he likes the aesthetics and large windows in the new building.

“If you go into the higher-level rooms and look out over the pond, there are beautiful views,” he said. He is also a fan of the library’s layout, Margil said, adding, “It’s a space that will inspire anyone who is in there for the purpose of learning.”

Sanchioni said his favorite feature is the college-style distance-learning room, which is equipped with stadium seating and ready to support most technologies for students taking online courses.

“Students can Skype with people in China, or watch a lesson broadcast from MIT,” he said. “There are endless opportunities.”

Paul Joseph, the Board of Selectmen’s chairman, agreed.

“I love the fact that the new building has technology-enabled rooms,” Joseph said. “We’re moving into a future in education where students will be learning in distributed environments, where they can collaborate not only in teams in school but also away from school.”

Sanchioni also said he looks forward to the unveiling of the 18,000-square-foot gymnasium with modern exercise equipment and a 6,000-square-foot track, which will also be available to the public.

“I deeply believe that students who are fit will do better academically,” he said.

Other new features include classrooms with overhead projectors and 1,200-square-foot science labs equipped for courses in robotics and website design.

Gabi Levine, vice president of the class of 2014, said the transition is bittersweet. While she said she will miss the historical significance of the old building, she looks forward to having a building that does not leak water on students’ heads.

“We definitely needed a new school,” Levine said.

She noted that students have had to deal with the lack of on-site athletic fields.

“I’m looking forward to just walking outside the doors next year for practice,” she said. “Right now, we have to catch a shuttle or get rides with friends to a field that’s ten minutes away, which cuts into practice time.”

Levine said she looks forward to touring the school with the rest of the public the night before classes begin, even though she has no idea where her locker or homeroom are located.

“It’s like a new adventure, going through the new rooms and halls and things like that,” she said. “Everyone is anxious because we don’t know what to expect, but it’s a good anxious.”

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@gmail.com.
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