Representatives from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, town and school officials, and former principals and staff gathered at Newman Elementary School in Needham this afternoon to dedicate the building, which recently underwent extensive renovations.
Assistant Principal Gregory Bayse said the bulk of the project?s $27.4 million ?was spent on things you can?t see,? including a new heating system and the building?s first air conditioning system. Other projects included refurbishing the main office, cafeteria, kitchen, auditorium, and electrical system, and updating classrooms with new technology, like interactive SmartBoards.
?It raises everyone?s comfort level,? Bayse said of the improvements. The school, which opened in 1960, had been used as a junior high school and state police barracks before it became an elementary school. As the largest elementary school in the city, it currently serves students in preschool, kindergarten, and grades 1 through 5, and also houses the Needham Science Center.
During the 2011-2012 school year, classes were held in modular classrooms at the Newman campus and Pollard Middle School, while Newman?s classrooms were being redesigned. The common spaces like the cafeteria and hallways were still used during the year, so a majority of the work had to be done quickly over the summer.
?It?s nice to have everyone back together all under one roof,? Bayse said. ?It?s a great building.?
State treasurer Steven Grossman, MSBA executive director Jack McCarthy, Needham School Committee chair Heidi Black, Permanent Public Buildings Committee chair George Kent, Needham Board of Selectmen chair Jerry Wasserman, Needham superintendent Dan Gutekanst, and Newman principal Jessica Peterson were scheduled to speak at a formal reception at noon. The 5th grade chorus spent the morning practicing songs they planned to perform at the ceremony.
One notable attendee at the open house Thursday morning was former Newman principal Robert Abbey, who retired in 2006. Abby took a tour of the building, frequently stopping into classrooms to say hello to students and faculty members, many of whom he hired during his tenure, Bayse said.
The state provided $8.5 million toward the project, while Needham voters passed a tax override to fund the remaining costs. The project was sparked by the discovery of extensive debris in the school?s 48-year-old ductwork, found after the heating and ventilation system failed in 2007. The new HVAC system replaces a temporary system put in place in 2009.
In addition to the building renovations, the Needham community, led by Newman parents and students, raised around $250,000 to redesign the school?s playground, which had fallen into disrepair over the years. The new structure includes two slides, swings, and four basketball hoops. The ground underneath the jungle gym will be laid with turf, similar to that used on football and soccer fields, though its installation was delayed by rain.
The rest of the afternoon?s celebration was scheduled to include a school- and community-wide honorary ceremony for former Newman principals, class reunions, and other community-building events for the students and public.
Laura Franzini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.