SALEM — It’s got new air conditioning, hurricane-resistant windows, a beefed-up security system and a view of the sea — but if it sounds like an exclusive getaway, think again.
It’s the Collins Middle School after $37.2 million in renovations.
Actually, the ocean view from the fourth floor was there all along, but now it’s easier to take in because the windows at the school on Highland Avenue have all been changed or repaired as part of the renovations, which were unveiled this week.
“I wouldn’t be able to say enough about the windows,” said Principal Mary Manning.
“Daylight’s now back in our building,” said Darlene Melis, chairwoman of the School Building Committee.
Before, the windows were almost entirely covered by opaque insulation panels, leaving the outside world visible only through an 18-inch band at their bottoms. New windows have been installed in the original portions of the school, built in 1909 and 1927, while windows in the 1992 addition have been repaired.
For the first time, each classroom has a window with operable sashes, and they’re all capable of withstanding 100 mph winds, as is required under the building code because of the site’s proximity to the sea, said district facilities director Paul L’Heureux.
Much of the renovation focused on the school’s “envelope.” The leaky roof was completely replaced, the building’s exterior was rehabbed, and walls were repaired. New flooring was installed, with classrooms and the School Committee chamber getting linoleum, and other locations like the Little Theater and auditorium getting carpet.
Another recipient of new carpeting was the library, where media specialist Joanne O’Keefe said she was happy to return after construction forced the center to relocate to two classrooms for months.
“Temporary digs were a bit tight,” she said. “It’s wonderful to be back.”
The library also received a new paint job and skylights, though O’Keefe said one of the biggest changes came as a result of ditching a large number of reference books in favor of open space where students can study. The books have been replaced by computer databases, some of which the state pays for and some, the district.
Another component of the project was the school’s infrastructure. A gas-fired hot-water heating system has replaced the previous steam system, and a new boiler was installed, making the site more energy-efficient. The temperature in every classroom can now be individually controlled and, for the first time, each has direct access to air conditioning.
The school also received new telephones, clocks and a public address system, and hook-ups for Smart Boards in classrooms, although obtaining the digital whiteboards themselves is the focus of another project.
The site now boasts an intrusion detection system, three “duress buttons” and 16 exterior cameras, all visible from the principal’s office. Additionally, each teacher will be able to lock classroom doors from the inside in the event of an emergency.
Two marble plaques honoring those who served or died during World War I were rediscovered during the work; they’d been taken down during the 1992 renovations. Each has since been cleaned and installed in the old lobby near the library’s entrance.
As is typical for such projects, a “punch list” of remaining work has been drawn up now that renovations have ended. Among other issues, a handful of chairs in the auditorium need to be reupholstered, the school is experiencing phone issues, the WiFi system hasn’t been perfected, and security screens are waiting to be installed on lower-level windows. Also, the school’s sign is slated to be replaced.
L’Heureux said the project was on time and on budget, and that despite its cost — roughly $53,000 per each of the school’s 700 students — “We try to be very, very frugal and spend the money wisely.”
The Massachusetts School Building Authority is picking up the tab for about 78 percent of the project’s eligible costs, or $27.1 million, through its Green Repair Program. Some of the work, such as asbestos abatement, is considered ineligible for state recompense.
The district is expected to pay about $10.1 million for its share of the project.
Renovations began in April 2012. The school was occupied throughout the process, with students and teachers switched from room to room as renovations continued.
A celebratory ceremony will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. The public is invited to come and take tours of the school.
Neil H. Dempsey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.