Old and new intertwined

By Brian MacQuarrie
Globe Staff / July 28, 2011

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NORWOOD - The clocks are gone from the stately tower that graces the top of old Norwood High, an imposing school on a gentle hill built long ago in 1926. Gaping holes have been punched through its red brick. And massive piles of dark loam rise from the construction-cluttered grounds.

Each day means the end draws closer for a school that always represented solid, grounded, and enduring beauty to me, a proud member of the class of 1970. Demolition is well underway, the tower is expected to topple in August, and the new Norwood High, rising behind the old, is on schedule to open with the first day of school.

The memories are indelible: Walking past its white columns as a nervous first-day freshman, straining up its hill in a cross-country race, making friends who would become family to me, and being pushed by teachers who commanded my attention and earned my respect.

I remember the old lockers; a dress code that required ties; the fun of participating in plays, and band, and the newspaper; and the sense that this was a good town, with good people, and that life was a steadily unfolding wonder.

If I had a complaint about the old Norwood High, I don’t remember it. I woke up each day and looked forward to the 20-minute walk to school. And after classes, there were high school sports - cross-country and track - that occupied every season of every year I went there. Walking home, sometimes in the dark, was a mellow, reflective time of tired but sweet satisfaction.

Through it all, I admired the building, whose clean, classic lines echoed the style and sensibility of a small New England college. What a loss, I thought, when I heard that this hometown icon would be laid waste by the wrecking ball.

But the past cannot linger forever, and a tour of the replacement showed that newer, indeed, can be better. Walking through the halls with principal George Usevich, who was a Norwood High administrator when I was a student, was a magnificent revelation.

Wide corridors dotted with images of Norwood history will lead to spacious, technology-fluent classrooms. An 800-seat auditorium that doubles as a deep-stage theater will be a community jewel. The old cafeteria has been replaced by a college-caliber dining hall. And two full-length basketball courts stretch end to end in an 18,000-square-foot gym that is girdled by an upper-level walking track. The new football field, with state-of-the-art artificial turf, is stunning.

There will be a grand staircase inside, a grand lawn out front, and 12 golden mustangs - reflecting the school’s nickname - spread throughout the school.

Usevich, who graduated from Norwood High in 1959, acknowledges the pull of the past, especially in an unpretentious town like Norwood, where generations of students, many from the same families, embraced the old place.

In a nostalgic gesture, the new building reflects the old. A replica of the clock tower is there; the columns and brick are, too. If the past had to go, fine, but no one wanted to forget it.

“There’s a sentimental feeling about the old house,’’ Usevich said as we moved about the new halls. “I have it in my gut, but you have to let it go.’’

Sooner than expected, I felt that way too. My classmate Billy Taube reminded me that Norwood High was special because of its people, not its mortar.

“It’s the building where people connected,’’ Taube said. “To me, the new school is a glorious thing. Listen, when I walked through the old building last month, it was sad. To me, it was being held up with duct tape.’’

Another high school friend, Joe Donovan from the class of 1971, said he glanced at the old building when he drove past recently, checking to see if the columns remained where an older generation - his father and eight siblings - attended school.

“The columns always symbolized strength and continuity to me,’’ Donovan said. “I was wondering how I would be affected by those taken down.’’

I can relate. Norwood students deserve the best facility the town can afford, and this one is spectacular. But its crumbling predecessor will remain a touchstone for me until it is gone. I remember the optimism I felt in its halls, the encouragement I received from its teachers and coaches, and the warmth I felt every day among my classmates.

Perhaps this is the best of two worlds. Norwood High now will be a cutting-edge building for future generations of lucky students. But in its clock tower and columns, in that homage to the past, I will always be transported to a time, and a place, that so carefully laid this foundation.

Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at