By Douglas Moser
---- — METHUEN — Teachers never looked so giddy at the end of summer.
High school teachers and staff arrived to a nearly unrecognizable building yesterday morning as the renovated and expanded southern half of the building opened its doors — and windows — to them to orient themselves and set up their classes the day before students return.
Teachers met in department meetings in their new classrooms, had their first lunch in the new cafeteria and serving area, and picked up the boxes of their things in the field house.
Meanwhile, construction crews put stone on the hallway steps, polish-finished hand rails, painted the last walls and poured concrete sidewalks outside the building in a last minute push to complete the main areas of the building, the “fine tuning,” according to Principal James Giuca.
Superintendent Judith Scannell said that while a couple areas will not be done for school today, the critical parts are complete and the workers will be out of the student sections.
“We’re ready to roll,” Giuca said yesterday. “It’s major league. It’s a fabulous building and it begins a new era for the high school. We’re going to use it to the best of our ability.”
Classrooms are done and teachers began moving their things into the new rooms, which each are equipped with digital televisions and audio systems and new desks.
The girls’ locker room will take a few more days, Scannell said, and the nurses will use a fine arts room while their area is completed.
The field house has been used as storage, and was still cluttered with teachers’ supplies from their old classrooms and some furniture yesterday morning. But those areas are expected to be finished in the next few days or week, she said.
It still has a sort of temporary feel, since they are still down space due to ongoing renovation in the north wing. The new media center and library will be used for classrooms and administration offices this year until the whole building is completed.
The largest unfinished piece in the new section is the auditorium, which officials said will be completed in November. “The superintendent wanted all the resources to go to the classrooms,” Mayor Stephen Zanni said.
The change is dramatic, and teachers and administrators said the new building will have an impact on the students. 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. It also was part of an architectural movement called Brutalism, characterized by a concrete, fortress-like exterior.
Teacher, staff and student input in the early planning stages sent the renovation project in the opposite direction.
Windows were expanded in the existing building and featured prominently in the new wing, which includes the cafeteria, a state of the art kitchen, the media center and library, the auditorium, music and fine arts rooms and a hallway linking the ice rink and field house to the building.
Scannell and Giuca are planning two open houses later this month, one for parents on Sept. 18, where the parents can follow their child’s class schedule and meet the teachers, and one for the community after school Sept. 25.
Veteran English teacher Joyce Gagnon was assigned to a plum corner classroom with two walls of windows. Excited as she was about the early September sunlight streaming into her new room, another feature thrilled her even more. “After 30 years I have my own door,” she said yesterday. “I took a picture of it.”
Work began this summer gutting the North House, where classes were held for grades 10 through 12 last year. Those grades move to the South House today while the other wing is renovated. Freshmen are taking classes at Central School off Lawrence Street.
The $98 million project is scheduled to be completed next summer, with all four grades back in the building this time next year.
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