By Mark E. Vogler
---- — METHUEN — Bunny Agnew said she was awed by what she saw in her return to a more modern Methuen High School.
“I worked here for 28 years in the cafeteria, so I gave it the once-over,” said Agnew, one of more than 300 people attending a public open house at the newly renovated and expanded building last night.
“I retired six years ago and this is the first time I’ve been back,’’ she said. “I’m just amazed with the difference. I liked it when I was here. But this food court is really nice. They have nice choices (on the menu) and I think the kids are going to enjoy it. It’s state of the art and it’s wonderful.’’
Agnew’s daughter Cynde — a 1989 Methuen High graduate — said she liked what she saw, too, but said she still preferred the open classroom environment that’s been replaced.
“It’s weird to see walls,” Cynde said. “I’m kind of nostalgic. I was OK with the open (classroom) concept. It looks a lot different than when I was here. It’s beautiful, but it’s just different. I just prefer the open concept. I don’t know anything different.’’
The open house was held to give public a close look at the $98-million renovation project. Methuen High School was built in the 1970s and its central internal organizing principle was an educational idea called “open classroom,’’ which favored a wide open floor plan with few or no barriers.
Remaining parts of the renovation are expected to wrap up by the summer of 2014.
The Agnews said they were pleased to see the way the city spent taxpayers’ money to improve the learning environment at the school.
Parents of children in kindergarten through grade eight received invitations to roam the classrooms and halls of the school for 90 minutes last night. The general public was also welcome. Parents of high school students got to visit last week.
“The community has really been waiting in anticipation to see the building,” Methuen School Superintendent Judith Scannell said.
“This was a very big piece for the taxpayer,’’ she said. “I am delighted they are here to see this.’’
Scannell said the school received rave reviews from numerous people who stopped to talk with her as they left the building.
What drew the most praise?
“The draw is having walls in the classrooms and windows,’’ Scannell said. “Every classroom in the building has windows. We’re the last to have the open classroom concept in the commonwealth.’’
Many visitors who were interviewed echoed Scannell’s remarks.
“I love all the windows and the separate classrooms,” said Bill Haneffant, who was accompanied by his daughter Caitlyn, a 2009 Methuen High graduate.
“I also love the openness — walking in here and not feeling cramped and old,’’ he said. “I think it’s great. It’s really beautiful. Once they get the stadium and the field house done, I think we’ll be the talk of the state.’’
Caitlyn, who expects to graduate from Salem State University with a bachelor’s degree in education and sociology, said she was equally impressed with the improvements to the high school.
“It’s completely different than when I graduated,” she said. “The school is much brighter and there are no orange walls anymore. I am so used to coming up to doors that are completely orange. If I were in secondary education, I would be looking to come here. But I’m in early childhood education.’’
Without the improvements, Methuen High wouldn’t be an attractive teaching destination, she said.
If it were the same old high school she knew, Caitlyn said “it would still be on my list because I live in town, but it wouldn’t be at the top of the list.”
While taking the tour, resident Bob Mathieu said he thinks the new Methuen High will be more conducive to learning.
“With partitions being replaced by classrooms with real walls, the teachers won’t have to worry about interference from the classroom next door,” he said. “There’s a lot of space here. It’s almost like a college campus.’’
His wife, Mary Jo Mathieu, said she was most impressed by the library.
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
Mark Kupiec, a city resident and son of two boys who graduated several years ago from Methuen High, came as a concerned taxpayer.
“I want to see how it’s put together and how the money was spent,” Kupiec said. “To me, this is much more than a renovation. It’s a completely new and maybe wondrous design. I’m kind of excited to see it.’’