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New Hanover high school opens

Sophomore Emma Plonowski leads a tour of the building. Sophomore Emma Plonowski leads a tour of the building. (Stephen Ryerson for The Globe)
By Michele Morgan Bolton
Globe Correspondent / September 25, 2011

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HANOVER - There were more than enough reasons to smile as hundreds gathered recently to celebrate the opening of the new Hanover High School.

After all, the sweeping 156,000-square-foot building project came in five months ahead of schedule and more than $10 million under budget. And the airy, free-flowing design with movable learning centers and top technology has been characterized as the most cutting-edge new school in the state.

But amid the cheer, applause, and pride on Sept. 18, the event was melancholy, too, as residents, building committee members, and state and local officials gathered in memory of a faithful project cheerleader who didn’t live to enjoy it.

As part of the ceremonies led by principal Thomas Raab, the school’s 535-seat auditorium was named the Robert J. Nyman Memorial Auditorium to honor the longtime state representative, former selectman, and School Committee member who died unexpectedly in June 2010.

Nyman’s wife, Rhonda, who assumed his political seat, expressed the angst of such an important yet bittersweet occasion without her husband and high-school sweetheart at her side.

The Nymans were members of Hanover High School’s Class of 1978, the year the first plan for renovating the 1958 school emerged.

“We can all agree that today is a very proud day for Hanover,’’ said Nyman, as many dabbed at their eyes. “There is no greater gift we can give our children than a top-notch education. How proud and honored Bob would be.’’

A close friend, Robert O’Rourke, said Nyman attended career days so he could advise students to seek public life. An auditorium named for him that hosts Town Meetings is fitting, O’Rourke said: “He always made sure the people’s voices were heard.’’

The new 800-student capacity school was the first project undertaken by the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which reimbursed just under half of its $51 million price tag. It has eight science labs, 2D and 3D art classrooms - for drawing, which is two-dimensional, and for other art forms like sculpture and ceramics, which are three-dimensional - a television studio, and a music suite with band and choral rooms, and a music technology lab.

The opportunities for success are endless, said state Treasurer Steven Grossman. “We all know that when a kid picks up a flute or a paint brush, they are less likely to pick up a gun or a syringe,’’ he said.

The shell of Hanover’s former high school, partially demolished just to the left of the building built by Callahan Construction, was due to be down by week’s end, building committee president Chris Martin said.

New fields that front Cedar Street will be in by November.

“We’ve been trying to do this for a long time,’’ Martin said, thanking the thousands of volunteers who helped to get it done.

The school project was a long time in coming and not without its frustrations. Residents tried to kick off a renovation project in 1978 with no luck. Then, the initial property tax-limit override vote to pay for a new building failed in 2001 by just 18 votes.

A new wave of voters agreed to build a new school in 2007, but a protracted legal challenge raised by union carpenters stalled construction.

Now, a new facilities maintenance division established outside the school district’s budget will oversee the needs of the School Department and other town buildings.

“You will decide how you want to take care of this building,’’ said Selectman Dan Pallotta to the audience.

The new school has been designed to support eight pod areas, each with six teaching stations that can be reconfigured as needed. Spaces are designed with a sense of community, whether it’s a gathering of students during school, or the community after hours, officials said.

There is wireless computer access throughout the building that can be shut on and off.

After the ceremony, freshmen Sophie Morrill and Nick Ricciarelli, both 14, prepared to lead a tour around the new building. Both said they were wide-eyed on the first day of school.

“I was surprised to see it was so big,’’ Morrill said.

Ricciarelli’s favorite feature? The library, he said.

Sophomores Elizabeth Ward and Emma Plonowski, both 15, had a year at the old school before moving over to the new one. Both said the differences were amazing.

“We went from no technology and a leaky roof to neat, and clean, and beautiful,’’ Ward said.

Both soccer players, the girls said the gym’s new locker rooms also get an “A.’’

Martin, Pallotta, and School Superintendent Kristine E. Nash said they worked closely to gather design input from everyone from students and teachers, to parents and senior citizens to be sure that all needs were met.

As a result, Nash said, the building is a testament to what a community wanted and valued.

“Hanover High School was not built using one of the state’s high-school models,’’ she said. “It was built as a model of what a 21st-century education should look like.’’

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton@live.com.