DANVERS — Come the fall of 2021, some 465 students in grades K-5 will have a brand new school on Lobao Drive.
Some say the Ivan G. Smith School's open classroom concept taught students to keep their voices hushed, but those like School Committee member David Thomson say that despite that benefit, the early 1970s school building with no walls between classrooms had "outlived its usefulness."
On Wednesday morning, students, teachers and staff were joined by town and school officials, project representatives, and state lawmakers for a groundbreaking to mark the start of construction on the new $52 million Smith School.
Site work on the adjacent field began this summer.
State Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, and Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, greeted the hundreds of students sitting on the school's basketball court, next to the construction zone, and each offered brief remarks. Speliotis said the new school school building will maximize education for students, as well as "reflect the new Danvers," which, he said, is changing daily as new people move into town.
"The school that's behind you over here was built in the early 1970s before most of your parents were born," Town Manager Steve Bartha said. "The project that we are working on has been in design since a little after 2010, which I'm guessing is before most of you were born. And if you stick around Danvers long enough, we are hoping that your kids will someday go to school here as well."
It took Danvers several years to win approval from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, and on Feb. 4, Town Meeting approved funding without the need for a debt exclusion. The MSBA has agreed to grant up to $20 million in eligible construction costs, with the town borrowing for the rest.
Selectman Dan Bennett, the board's chairperson, said it does not appear the town has an appetite for a tax override, even though projections a year ago showed the town could save on borrowing costs.
"The lower interest rates and the triple-A rating gives us a lower rate and we will be able to handle the other debt that will come along in the future," Bennett said of the town's recent upgrade to the top bond rating.
School Committee Chairperson Mary Beth Verry said learning will only be enhanced by the new state-of-the-art school, be it the new classrooms, furniture or technology.
The new school is being constructed on the adjacent former ballfield. When the old Smith School is demolished in 2021, it will become an expanded parking lot.
"I'm very excited about it," said parent Todd Cormier, a member of the School Building Committee, who with his wife, Courtney, has two kids at the school — third-grader Reese and first-grader Adeline. The couple have another daughter, Emerson, 1, who will some day go to the new school, he said. Cormier said he's most excited about the new school's advanced technology.
"I'm going to love the new school," Adeline said after the groundbreaking.
Smith School project timeline
Now: Site work on adjacent ballfield to accommodate split-level design of new building.
Fall 2019: Bids for steel and concrete work due and will be awarded.
Winter 2020 to Spring 2021: Construction of new school building.
Spring 2021 to Fall 2021: Demolition of the old Smith School.
Fall 2021: New Smith School to open.