By Paul Leighton
BEVERLY — A new era in the education of the city's public school students officially began yesterday as more than 100 invited guests got their first look at the gleaming $81 million Beverly High School.
With light pouring through windows and skylights, officials cut a ceremonial orange and black ribbon, and high school students led tours of the new four-story academic building and renovated portions of the attached old school.
Students, teachers and administrators will move into the new building Nov. 30.
"I just think it's going to excite students and make them want to come to school," said Sky Cowans, the junior class vice president who served as one of six tour guides. "We have great school spirit, and this just makes it more. It makes us proud."
State Treasurer Tim Cahill, who oversees the state's school building program, praised the project as a "model" for how to construct a state-of-the-art school within a reasonable budget. He said the new Beverly High School is just as good as recently opened Newton North High School, which at $200 million cost 21/2 times as much.
"No matter how much money you spend, there couldn't be a better building (than this one)," Cahill said in an interview after the ribbon-cutting ceremony. "This is certainly a model for how you get it done."
The new four-story building features chemistry, physics and computer labs; a conference room with a state-of-the-art sound system; an art wing with rooms for music, chorus and cooking; and half-size "special learning centers" for classes such as English as a Second Language.
The top three floors each include an assistant principal's office and a carpeted teachers' lounge with a kitchenette. On the first floor is a computer tech support room where students can bring their laptop computers for repairs. The chorus and band rooms feature "sound cloud" ceiling panels that enhance acoustics.
The front lobby and main hallways have terrazzo floors, which is more expensive than standard material but of higher quality and longer lasting, according to Mayor Bill Scanlon.
Students will be issued "swipe cards" to gain entry after the doors are locked in the morning. The cards can also be used as debit cards at the school store.
The academic building is designed in a rectangular shape with a courtyard in the middle, a design that allows for windows in every classroom. Tour guide Jake Levine said the fourth floor is known as "the penthouse" for its expansive window views.
Beverly resident Paula Reynolds, a Cell Signaling Technology employee, who was invited to the ceremony because her company donated to the science lab, described the new school as "gorgeous."
"The space and the lighting is beautiful," she said.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony began with a performance in the library by the Beverly High School chorus. Some members were already dressed for last night's annual Powder Puff flag football game between senior girls from Beverly and Salem High, including two boys dressed as cheerleaders.
Along with Scanlon and Cahill, short remarks were given by Massachusetts School Building Authority Executive Director Katherine Craven, Congressman John Tierney, state Rep. Mary Grant, City Council President Mike Cahill, Superintendent Marie Galinski, School Committee President Annemarie Cesa and high school Principal Sean Gallagher.
Nick Powers, an aide to Sen. Scott Brown, presented a citation from Brown recognizing the opening of the school. Former Beverly Superintendent James Hayes, who was praised by Scanlon and Galinski for his work on the new school, was also in attendance.
Tim Cahill and Craven credited Scanlon with his persistence in pursing state aid for the project. Craven said Scanlon e-mailed and text-messaged her so often "my husband wondered why I was always speaking to the mayor of Beverly."
Tim Cahill said Beverly was in a difficult situation when it decided to go ahead with its plans in 2006. Facing the loss of accreditation due to the poor condition of its old school, which was built in 1965, the City Council had to approve the funding at a time when the state's school building program had been halted due to past overspending.
The school building authority eventually agreed to pay 58.4 percent of the $81 million project.
"It took a lot of courage for the mayor and local officials to step forward not knowing whether we'd come up with the funding," Cahill said. "It took a lot of guts."
Cahill said the project came in "under budget."
Cesa said the old high school was known as "the maze" due to its rambling layout, which includes four building wings, 11 floor levels and 84 doors. The easiest way to get from the office to the auditorium, she said, is to go outside, "no matter what the weather."
Cesa said the old school's roof leaks, its windows are cloudy, its lighting is inadequate, its public address system is faulty, and its heating system ranges "from tundra to rain forest."
"Our accreditation was hanging on by just a thread because of the building," she said. "It's a great day to be from Beverly."
Even though students are scheduled to move in Nov. 30, the project is not complete. The cafeteria and field house are still being renovated. The old academic wings will be demolished next year and replaced mostly by parking.
And Scanlon is still pursuing his goal of two artificial turf fields at the school. Those plans were scrapped when the state said it would no longer share the costs of playing fields, but Scanlon now wants to build them with a combination of a $500,000 state grant and private donations.
The new fields would be called Beverly Sports Park and would cost a total of $2.55 million, according to a website, beverlysportspark.org, the city has established to solicit donations.
Levine, who is the junior class president, agreed with classmate Cowans that the new school will boost student morale.
"When I traveled to other schools with sports teams, I always thought our school was below everyone else," he said. "Now our school will be better than everyone else."
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or by e-mail at email@example.com.