By Ethan Forman
---- — This past week not only marked a major milestone for two area technical high schools, but also commemorated victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut.
“Those kids lost their chance to go to high school, so they are going to get a chance to come to ours,” said North Shore Tech Assistant Principal Don Gibson.
The steel frame for the new Essex Technical High School was completed with two white beams containing the names of more than 1,000 students who attend Essex Agricultural and Technical High and North Shore Technical High schools — plus the signatures of the construction workers working on the project. The beam signed by students at North Shore Tech will also contain an aluminum plaque commemorating the victims of the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
The $133 million project, a 300,000 square foot building being built on the Hathorne campus of Essex Aggie, will merge Essex Aggie and North Shore Tech into one. Essex Aggie, North Shore and the merged school district all include students from the Cape Ann communities of Gloucester, Essex, Rockport and Manchester. Gloucester also continues to operate its own vocational program at Gloucester High School.
On Wednesday, a construction crew delivered a white steel beam to the parking lot of North Shore Tech in Middleton for the school’s 600 or so students to sign.
A similar beam was placed in the parking lot of Berry Hall at Essex Aggie, adjacent to the construction site, for the 480 or so students of this school to sign.
“They were having a ball,” Essex Aggie Superintendent/Director Roger Bourgeois said of the students’ enthusiasm to sign the beam and become immortalized in the new school. “They were all very excited.”
The last two beams will be part of a topping off ceremony scheduled at the new school at 9 a.m. today. As part of the topping off tradition, an American flag and a Christmas tree will also grace the top of the building.
During lunch at North Shore Tech, students trickled outdoors to sign the beam.
“We have about 600 names to go on it,” said Gibson. Having the students sign the beam means they “become part of the school forever,” Gibson said.
“You will know you will always be part of that school, no matter what,” he told a couple of students as they signed their names with permanent markers.
Some student signatures, some bearing the year of their class, that now grace the beam include those of “Wesley ‘Snipes’ Taylor,” “Andrew Walton 2016,” “Anthony Fortes,” “Dylan Paris 2015,” “Angelo Fortes 2015,” and “Peter Magee ‘Big Bird.’”
When the school is completed in the fall of 2014, it will be made up of four career academies, each accommodating 360 students, covering 22 agricultural, technical and vocational programs.
North Shore Tech also wanted to use the opportunity to do something to commemorate the victims at Sandy Hook. Last week’s shootings claimed the lives of 20 young students and six staff at the school.
Students in the graphic communication and machine tool technology collaborated to create the plaque, a simple aluminum 1-foot square containing the names and ages of the victims that will be attached to the beam, Gibson said.
“I think it’s good to commemorate the victims, but I still don’t understand how that can happen,” said senior Michael Eldridge, who was working on a computer to create the design of the plaque. Once the names are set, the computer will send the information to a machine which will then do the engraving.
“I think it’s a creative idea,” said senior Drew Schimmel of Hamilton. “I think signing the beam was cool,” he added, “but I thought it was going to be way bigger.”
With the finishing of the three-story steel frame, the project is “a third of the way through” and is on schedule and on budget, Bourgeois said. Next steps include the installation of the roof and exterior walls, which will create a building envelope so contractors can begin plumbing and electrical work. Floor decks are also being installed.
“It’s going to be an asset to the region and the community for many, many years to come,” Bourgeois said.
Design Partnership of Cambridge designed the school and the general contractor is Gilbane Corp of Providence. The owner’s project manager is PMA Construction Services of Braintree.
Overseeing the project is the state Division of Capital Asset Management and the Massachusetts School Building Authority, state agencies which have contributed a majority of the money for the project.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.