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School's opening makes the grade

Not that the Medway 15-year-old wouldn't have appreciated a few more days of summer vacation, but Julianne Grillo can't remember ever being as excited for school to start.

After laying out her favorite pair of jeans and stuffing her school bag with pens and notebooks, Grillo, a sophomore at Medway High, spent a good part of her last night of vacation reviewing her schedule and wondering how she was going to find her way around the new three-story, 204,000-square-foot building.

"I'm a little bit nervous," she said Wednesday night, the eve of the new school year. "It's going to be a little difficult to get around because the school is absolutely huge."

Despite rumors among students that the building would not be ready for another couple of weeks, the $40 million Medway High School opened Thursday morning.

The town issued an occupancy permit less than 24 hours before the opening bell.

The opening brought some of those most closely associated to the project to tears, said Jim Hoodlet, chairman of the School Building Committee.

"It has been kind of emotional," he said. "There were some points along the way where it wasn't all that clear that we would achieve success here, but we pressed on and we did."

It's a "beautiful school," he added.

For years, school officials, citing a lack of resources, have said that high school students have been forced to deal with challenges that they shouldn't have had to.

A lack of courses, for example, meant some students had to spend as many as three class periods in study hall. Several teachers were forced to roll their materials from room to room in carts. Some classes had to be held in the cafeteria, the library, and in some cases, the hallway.

Pam Badger, whose son, Chris, is a junior, said conditions at the old school left students uninspired.

"It took a toll on my son," she said. "He was taking courses that he wasn't interested in because there were no other options. . . . Kids didn't respect it. It was a mob scene. There were no computer labs."

Badger said the new Summer Street facility looks and feels the way a school should.

Grillo, whose mother, Suzanne, founded the Medway Foundation for Education, called the old high school a "joke" and said she expects a dramatic change in her school life and that of her classmates.

"Everyone has a different attitude," she said. "Everyone is a little more excited to go back because it's just a beautiful school. Everything will be more comfortable. The auditorium -- it looks like a professional stage."

But preparing the new site was not easy. It took two years to finish the building, nine months more than planned. And much of that time was fraught with turmoil.

The problems began almost immediately. First, there was additional ledge that needed to be blasted, which led to a six-month delay. Then, every month seemed to bring a challenge for school officials -- whether because of a lack of manpower at the work site, vandalism, or a fuel spill that contaminated nearby wetlands.

There also were financial hurdles.

After approving two temporary tax increases in 2001 to build the school, residents were asked to open their pocketbooks again this spring in support of a $1.9 million permanent tax increase, which Medway officials said was necessary to fund the school.

Hoodlet said the completion of the school demonstrated the town's ability to confront and overcome difficult obstacles.

Franco Ordoez can be reached at fordonez@globe.com.

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