SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

May 23, 2014

Essex Tech's final touches

Tour highlights state-of-art school's signature features

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

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DANVERS — The main building of the $135 million Essex Technical High measures three football fields in length.

It’s just one of several buildings built on a brand-new campus along Maple Street as part of the creation of a new regional technical school.

“We are at 90 percent completion,” said Superintendent Dan O’Connell. “We are on time, we are on budget for $135 million, and we plan on being here, bringing in all the furniture late June and early July.”

When the 1,440-student school opens in the fall, it will house the programs of state-owned Essex Agricultural and Technical School, which draws students from across the county; the 16-district North Shore Technical High in Middleton; and Peabody’s high school vocational programs. The school is being built on the campus of Essex Aggie in the Hathorne section of town.

Once complete, the school will house four separate academies and 24 technical areas. The agricultural buildings are already occupied by Essex Aggie students, and new automotive and collision-repair buildings have sprung up at the back of the school. The campus will also have a lighted stadium with a running track and an artificial turf field.

During a tour Tuesday, workers were putting the finishing touches on the project amid newly installed floors, walls and carpets. One could see the metal studs of interior walls for the HVAC area, one of four new programs at the school. The tour also took in the sight and smell of the freshly varnished floor of the Essex Tech gym, which already sports the school’s mascot, the hawk.

Getting his first look at the school was former Senate Majority Leader Fred Berry, who said he pushed for the merger so the North Shore could have a state-of-the-art technical school similar to other regions in the state. He anticipated a long waiting list for enrollment once people see the facility.

“I’m thrilled; I’m thrilled,” said Berry of his first impression of the school. “I had a vision of this, and this vision is being fulfilled. I thought it was very important to get a first-class vocational school for my district. We had none. Every place in the commonwealth had theirs. I had to fight for mine. Now, I cannot be happier.”

Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt also came along. Peabody is new to the regional vocational school district and will have one of the largest enrollments of any community in the new school.

“It’s exciting to think about the type of learning that is going to take place,” Bettencourt said, “and it’s going to benefit the students of Peabody for many years to come.”

O’Connell said many spaces in the school are designed to have more than one function. Bump-out areas in corridors can also be used as learning spaces. Walls between classrooms can be taken down or moved as space needs change.

“The classrooms are all connected in tubes, so you have little knuckles of classrooms that have a soundproof wall between them that can be separated,” O’Connell said. “None of the walls between classrooms are (load) carrying walls, so 10 to 15 years from now, if we have to redesign anything, it’s just knocking out a metal studded wall with soundproofing.”

Since the school is so large, officials created a main cafeteria and two dining areas lit by a soaring wall of glass and steel. The smaller dining areas are also “flexible learning spaces” where lectures can be held. Technology to run presentations are built into the walls, and cafeteria furniture can be turned into classroom furniture.

This kind of flexibility also extends to science labs, O’Connell said.

One of the signature features is a circular restaurant, which is suspended over the main cafeteria. The plan is to have the restaurant open four days a week for breakfast and lunch, and for private functions and business meetings, all served by culinary arts students.

The school’s cosmetology lab is adjacent to the front entrance for public access. The large cafeteria can also serve as a lecture hall or instructional space, O’Connell said.

For the project to receive an occupancy permit from the state, the school must demolish the John T. Berry building at the front of campus to make way for a driveway, O’Connell said. Asbestos abatement and other environmental cleanup work has to be done first. Essex Aggie moved out of the building early, which will help the project’s timeline by three weeks, O’Connell said.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.