GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 22, 2008

New Manchester Essex school taking shape

By Michael Farrell

MANCHESTER — The birds were barely audible on Lincoln Street yesterday.

At the site of the new Manchester Essex Regional High School, their songs were muffled by the ever-present drone of air compressors. Now and then, the hollow drumming of a hammer on metal could be heard or the rumble of a truck engine and the beeping of a back-up warning alarm.

The sounds have not changed much as the semi-skeletal structure has steadily risen above the old school building since construction began July 9, 2007, but the building certainly has. And according to officials, the new school is about to receive some finishing touches to some of its major structural elements.

According to a construction update sent by Judith Mulligan, the school district's business manager, completion of the new school's skeletal frame is near. Installation of the windows is expected to begin soon, and passers-by can already see the considerable amount of brick work that is underway.

"It's extremely exciting to think that in less than a year from now we'll be in a new $49 million building," said Assistant Principal Paul Murphy as he was leaving the 1950s-era school building at lunch-time yesterday.

The construction report indicated that the final skeletal work is being erected in the auditorium, which is centrally located on the new building's main floor.

The roof is also not far away from completion.

"The building is essentially watertight as far as the roof is concerned," said Joe Lucido, the school facilities manager. Except for the shingles, the roof, including the large skylight windows, is largely complete.

Windows that will be on the side of the building remain in storage on the site, waiting to be installed next week.

The exterior of the building, said Lucido, is composed of three layers built onto a steel frame. The first layer is a yellow insulation board, visible on the left-hand side of the building as you face it from Lincoln Street. On top of that is sprayed a green vapor barrier to help control humidity in the building; this layer can be seen in the center of the building. And on the right side, the final brick layer has begun to grow around a part of the school that will house sports facilities, school offices and common areas.

Interior work, according to Lucido, is also progressing. Most of the floor decking is in place. And electrical work and plumbing are in progress along with efforts to fireproof the interior framework.

"If you walked into the building today," said Lucido, "you would be able to see hallways and classrooms — just without the drywall."

What is more, said Lucido, workers are getting ready to pave the Arbella Street parking lot, which will hold roughly 82 parking spaces.

According to Sarah Hammond Creighton, chairwoman of the Manchester Essex Regional School Building Committee, the building will be completed before September 2009, in time for the 2009-2010 school year.

She also said the new school is designed to accommodate 750 students and will house the 600 or so high school and middle school students from Manchester and Essex.

One reason that the school district decided to construct a new facility, explained both Creighton and Murphy, was that the old building was proving inadequate to accommodate students' needs. For instance, there was such a shortage of classrooms that part of the library was used for classes. Furthermore, Creighton said, the cafeteria was so limited that some kids had to eat their lunch on the floor.

"It's been difficult at times to deal with an aging building that is just falling apart," Murphy said.

The conditions were so bad that the New England Association of Schools and Colleges had put the school's accreditation on warning status. Fortunately, Crieghton said, the new building settles all of the issues that threatened their accreditation.

According to Creighton, $49 million was approved for the project by the voters of Manchester and Essex.

"Voter's support was key and much appreciated," she said.

So far, $43.7 million has been contracted, leaving $5.3 million to be parceled out for parts of the project which have not begun yet.

To date, $17.2 million has been spent on the project.

Michael Farrell can be reached at gt_reporter@gloucestertimes.com