LAWRENCE — Students at the Oliver Partnership School are moving into their new home for the next few years as they await construction of a brand-new building, scheduled to be complete in time for the 2024-25 school year.

Starting Tuesday, 30 Oliver Partnership elementary students will power up their Chromebooks at the vacant former St. Mary's grammar school on Haverhill Street, with another roughly 70 peers set to join them March 1, according to Chris Markuns, spokesman for Lawrence Public Schools' Superintendent Cynthia Paris. The move of last-minute items took place over February vacation, Markuns said, with students back to class this week.

"St. Mary’s has been the planned temporary home of Oliver Partnership School during the construction process for some time, so this move is not unexpected," Markuns said. "It is a great space and, since it was ready right now and we have a limited number of OPS students in person, it made sense to make the transition over this break rather than wait until summer."

Families were notified several weeks ago that the transition between schools would take place, Markuns said.

Construction on the new Oliver Partnership School, which serves students in grades kindergarten through eight, is set to begin in July to replace the existing building that was first constructed in 1917.

"The new Oliver Partnership School is the most important large educational investment in a decade," said Dan Rivera, former mayor of Lawrence and a current member of the Lawrence Alliance for Education, the board that voted on the new building. "The current condition (of the existing school) shows it and the kids deserve it."

Indeed, as public documents for the project indicate, the existing school has engineering systems that need frequent maintenance, along with accessibility issues. Students must go to the lowest floor to access restrooms. Further, children are forced to cross city streets to access play areas in the Campagnone Commons or O’Neill Playground. 

The proposed new building would combine both the Oliver Partnership School, which houses elementary learners in grades kindergarten through five, and the UP Academy, Oliver's middle-school students in grades sixth to eight. Currently, middle-school students are at UP Academy Oliver,  located at North Common Educational Complex across the street from the library.

Earlier this month, the Massachusetts School Building Authority, along with state Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg, approved a grant of up to $58,290,756 to the city to fund the construction. The district and the MSBA will now enter into what is called a project funding agreement to detail the project's scope and budget, along with the conditions under which the district will receive its grant. Lawrence taxpayers will be responsible for paying the rest of the cost of the project.

“Upon completion, this project will provide a 21st century learning environment for students in Lawrence,” Goldberg said. “Our goal is to create the best space to deliver the district’s educational commitments and goals.”

According to the MSBA, grant money is being used to correct a number of deficiencies identified by the district, including mechanical, electrical and plumbing concerns. In addition, the new school is necessary to support students' educational needs in order to combat overcrowding. It is estimated to create 1162,000 square feet of educational space with an agreed-upon enrollment of 1,000 students, according to the MSBA.

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