The new Newton North High School is a strange beast — a symbol of a wealthy community’s commitment to education and materialism. If row upon row of flat-screen computers and cardiovascular exercise machines could produce educational excellence, the Race to the Top would be a lot quicker. If pristine white boards with “interactive’’ connectors could foster community, the job of teachers and principals would be a lot simpler.
But in the realm of excessive public projects, of which Massachusetts has had many, this one barely registers as an outrage, even with $46.6 million in state money tied up in the $197.5 million price-tag. If Newton was going to blow nearly $90 million in cost overruns on anything, a state-of-the-art high school is about the most admirable show of excess it could make. And there may be an unseen payback on the investment. Newton’s desirability as a bedroom community and its property values are tied to the quality of its schools. And while a palatial Graham Gund-designed campus doesn’t equate with educational quality, it’s a visible statement of the city’s priorities.
At last week’s opening, as students oohed and ahhed over the indoor track and giant theater, one could almost feel the air going out of the anger over its cost. And that’s perfectly reasonable. For Newton North, the value of this project will be proved, or disproved, over the long term.