West

Concord-Carlisle High set to open

A 600-seat auditorium, a black box theater, and soundproofed practice rooms are among the features at the new high school.
kieran kesner for the boston globe
A 600-seat auditorium, a black box theater, and soundproofed practice rooms are among the features at the new high school.

After nearly 18 years of planning, setbacks and construction, a new $93 million Concord-Carlisle High School is set to open its doors.

The 1,225-student environmentally friendly school, designed to meet the needs of a 21st-century workspace, will be open to teachers Monday. Students will begin filling the halls the following day.

“We are thrilled that our students, staff, faculty, parents, and communities will enjoy a new, beautiful, state-of-the art educational facility that supports the high quality teaching and learning that takes place every day in Concord-Carlisle High School,” said Superintendent Diana F. Rigby in a statement.

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But it’s been a rocky road for the project, which was approved by Concord and Carlisle voters in 2011. In 2012, the Massachusetts School Building Authority took the highly unusual step of suspending grant payments after the high school’s budget, scope, and schedule had veered off track. At one point, the project was poised to run between $15 million and $17 million over its construction budget.

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Following the state’s decision to suspend payments, the two cochairs of the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School Building Committee resigned, and many residents expressed anger and frustration over the district’s handling of the project.

Jack McCarthy, the executive director of the MSBA, said it was “quite an ordeal’’ for the state to take the step of suspending payments, and noted that there was plenty of blame to go around.

“It was like the perfect storm,’’ he said. “There wasn’t one person totally responsible. The designer could have done a better job, the [district’s project manager] should have done a better job watching, and the district has to take some responsibility, too. They are the owner. This was their first time in the program, and I don’t think they believed it wasn’t business as usual like in the old days.’’

The MSBA was created by the Legislature in 2004, partly to rein in spiraling construction costs, and started inviting districts to submit projects under its new system in 2007.

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McCarthy said the Concord-Carlisle project turned around after the district named Carlisle resident Stan Durlacher, who has a background in design and construction, as the new chairman of the building committee. The funding was restored in early 2013.

“He brought to it a sense of professionalism that made it easy to work with,’’ McCarthy said. “And after they got back on track, they’ve acted like any other project. In the long run, we’re very happy with how it turned out.’’

On a recent media tour, district officials emphasized the environmentally sustainable aspects of the new school, such as the use of natural light, dehumidified air for heating and cooling systems in classrooms, and a smaller building footprint.

“This will be one of the greenest buildings in the state when it’s done,” said Louis Salemy, chairman of the building committee’s subcommittee on finance.

The four-floor facility is also designed to fit the needs of a 21-century workspace, according to Michelle Ernst, a building committee member and tour leader.

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The Learning Commons, an open space near the school’s south and main entrance, is a place for students to meet with teachers and work on group projects. Ernst said it will also be home to a student-run technology support desk and charging stations for mobile devices.

‘This will be one of the greenest buildings in the state.’ - Louis Salemy, Building Committee for $93m CCHS

“We wanted the building to feel open and collegiate,” Ernst said.

Highlights of the building include a 600-seat auditorium, a black box theater, two attached gyms, a photography room, five soundproof practice rooms for music students, an acoustically improved band room, and robotics and science labs. Three atriums around the building will let in more natural light.

Hallways have a total of 24 flat-screen televisions, including a “media wall” or nine screens put together in the cafeteria and a touch-screen display near the main entrance, which shows the building’s green sustainability efforts, such as water usage and air quality, in real time.

Upgraded safety features such as a main office within view of the entrance and fewer outside doors — the old building had 54, the new has nine — were incorporated into the plan in response to school shootings across the country in recent years, Rigby said.

The district will hold an open house for the community May 2 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The old building will be demolished and removed by the end of this year, Ernst said.

The town had been looking at options for the high school building for nearly a dozen years before deciding to move forward with new construction in 2011. Officials say the high school had been put on the back burner while Concord built three elementary schools.

“The new high school is an exceptional education facility that is consistent in design, scope, budget, and schedule with what was presented to residents at the Town Meetings,” Durlacher said. “During the design process, the architect and Building Committee explored adding design elements that proved to be too costly; that was a bump in the road for the Building Committee process that has successfully delivered on all aspects of the project to date.”

Cynthia Rainey, a parent of high school freshman and junior boys, said she thinks some residents still have hard feelings about how the project was handled, but many people are moving on and are eager for the new school to open.

“It was unfortunate we got suspended because it did cause everyone a lot of pain,’’ she said. “I’m sure that all of the stakeholders admit they wish it wouldn’t have happened, but it did. Through a lot of hard work, it did get back on track.’’

Cash flow and classrooms

Construction projects for new high schools west of Boston in the past 10 years.

District Project Cost Reimbursement Rate Number of Students Grades Date Completed
Ashland* $42,422,295 62 percent 985 9-12 Jan. 2006
Berlin/Boylston-Tahanto $41,357,035 51.2 percent 560 7-12 July. 2013
Concord-Carlisle $92,578,522 35.58 percent 1,225 9-12 Feb. 2015
Franklin $103,513,848 59.52 percent 1,650 9-12 July. 2014
Maynard $45,654,695 56.42 percemt 410 8-12 Dec. 2013
Natick $78,780,366 52.63 percent 1,300 9-12 Aug. 2013
Newton North* $197,499,511 60 percent 1,850 9-12 Sept. 2010
North Middlesex (Pepperell, Townsend, Ashby) $89,084,977 60.63 percent 870 9-12 July 2017 (expected)
Waltham (invited into the pipeline in January)
Wayland $70,432,350 40 percent 900 9-12 Aug. 2012
Wellesley $115,987,740 40 percent 1,500 9-12 Jan. 2012

**[Waltham] invited into the MSBA pipeline in January

*Ashland and Newton North were approved and funded under the old school building authority, which was scrapped and replaced with the MSBA in 2004.

Source: Massachusetts School Building Authority

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.com. Christopher Gavin can be reached at christopher.gavin@globe.com.