, Salem, MA

August 20, 2013

After 2 years of renovations, Saltonstall prepares to go 'home'

By Bethany Bray

---- — SALEM — “Settled” is not a word Saltonstall School Principal Julie Carter would use right now. But “homecoming” is, she said.

It took one week — and more than 11 moving trucks and three trailers full of boxes and supplies — for Saltonstall to relocate to its original school building on Lafayette Street this month.

Two years of renovations to the nearly 100-year-old building are almost finished. Students will return to school Sept. 4 after a two-year stay at the former St. James School on Federal Street while construction was underway.

“The intensity of this move is extreme,” Carter said. “... We’re glad to be back home, that’s the bottom line.”

A recent walk-through with Carter revealed brighter, lighter classrooms and hallways; redesigned and updated science and art rooms; new flooring and windows and a slate of other improvements — along with mountains of unpacked boxes and bubble-wrapped equipment.

Saltonstall’s last day of school was July 29. Staff “packed like crazy” for four days, Carter said. Moving crews made trip after trip from Federal to Lafayette streets through the first week of August.

As of last week, the gym was being used as a catch-all for extra items from the moving trucks. Cafeteria tables, filing cabinets, shelving and dozens of boxes were stacked wall-to-wall.

Teachers and school staff will spend the next two weeks unpacking and organizing classrooms, as well as redesigning safety procedures, student pickup and drop-off routines, recess schedules and other plans.

It’s a challenge, Carter said, but a happy one.

“Teachers are just really excited about how beautiful the building is,” she said. “... The dream that we have at Saltonstall, there’s just more space to make that dream come true.”

Saltonstall has about 360 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The move back to Lafayette Street will allow the school to bring in three new classes for learning disabled children, currently at the Carlton Elementary and Collins Middle schools.

In addition to adjusting to a new location, Saltonstall staff and students will have a new calendar. Last month the School Committee voted to end the 190-day schedule at Saltonstall, one of the hallmarks of the school since its founding in 1996.

The change means Saltonstall staff will have to rethink curriculum and even their grading system and schedule, which was based on a 190-day year.

“The whole system is in flux,” said Carter, who was a Saltonstall teacher before becoming principal four years ago. “This will impact the structure of our year.”

The majority of Saltonstall’s $15.6 million construction project focused on fixing leaks the building had been plagued with since a major reconstruction and addition less than 20 years ago.

“We used to have water views inside. Now we have them only on the outside,” Carter joked, pausing at library windows that overlook Palmer Cove.

Roofing, windows, flooring, lighting and phone systems were replaced. Classrooms and hallways were repainted, air-conditioning was installed throughout the school, brickwork and masonry were repaired, and new carpeting was put in the auditorium.

The nurses’s office was relocated to a more central and accessible space, Carter said. There is also a new conference room, which they never had before, and teachers lounge.

The science and art rooms were redesigned to be much more open, with large storage rooms off the main classroom. The science room renovations were paid for by a donation from the Norman H. Read Charitable Trust.

“It’s just incredibly beautiful,” said Carter, as she looked out the science room’s windows to water views. “There is a sense of peacefulness.”

Carter said construction crews will continue to work on small, final fixes through the next few weeks. A public open house will be held at Saltonstall on Sept. 21.

In 2011, Saltonstall went through this process in reverse, finishing school and moving across town to the former St. James parochial school. As much as the owners tried to accommodate Saltonstall, the Federal Street building was cramped — roughly half the size of Saltonstall’s Lafayette Street home, Carter said.

Saltonstall PTO Co-president Susan Cayoutte lauded Saltonstall staff for the work they put into making a less-than-ideal temporary home welcoming.

They made it “as positive an experience as possible,” said Cayoutte, who has a daughter going into fifth grade at Saltonstall. “I was amazed at the job they did over the past two years. ... Even with the limitations, it was a wonderful place to be.”

Bethany Bray can be reached at and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.

Saltonstall School re-opening ceremony and public tour

Saturday, Sept. 21, 10 a.m.

Saltonstall, 211 Lafayette St.

RSVP to Darleen Melis, or 978-744-6471