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The new Attleboro High School

The city's new 'flagship' school is rising on Rathbun Willard Drive

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The new Attleboro High School

One year from now, teachers will be making last minute preparations to welcome students to the new Attleboro High School, often termed the “flagship” of the city’s education system.

The $259.9 million building, four stories high and about 670 feet long, will be done, if all goes as planned, and at this point there’s no reason to believe it won’t.

It has been on time and on budget since construction began in April 2019 despite obstacles encountered due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Skanska USA project executive Mary Ann Williams said coronavirus has been the most challenging obstacle of the project. Despite this, construction has continued for the past 28 months.

The project started just before the supply chain for critical components, such as steel, broke down, officials said.

For example, the company that was to supply the bricks closed due to coronavirus. A second company was found, but the quality of the product was poor and so another was sought.

“We got a third company which gave us what you see,” Williams said, gesturing toward the towering brick and glass facade of the new building on Rathbun Willard Drive.

And now the finish line is well within view.

A temporary occupancy permit is expected to be issued in less than 10 months. At that point, the school superintendent and his staff can move into their suite.

Furniture and equipment will be delivered and set up, and teachers who in 2022 are scheduled to return in the last week of August will be preparing for the first day of school in the new building.

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The monthly report on the city’s website said the high school project is 55 percent complete in terms of money expended.

According to the report, $141,745,692 out of the $259,918,180 budgeted for the project has been spent.

That was in June, so the number is higher now.

The city is responsible for $133.4 million of the $259.9 million price tag.

Of that amount, about $126 million will be borrowed and the rest will come from other sources. Total cost to the city will be $242.1 million. That amount includes interest on the loan.

The state’s school building authority is on the hook for $126.5 million.

But for school building committee vice chairman Jack Jacobi, the project is closer to 75 percent done, if the time element is used.

“This is an eight-year process,” he said during a recent interview. “I really think we are way more than halfway done.”

It began with “visioning” sessions in September 2016 run by the city’s project manager, Skanska USA out of Boston and Waltham, which was hired in April of that year. It will end in spring 2024 when new athletic fields will be in place where the old high school once stood.

In July 2016, architectural firm Kaestle Boos Associates out of Foxboro was brought on board and was a key part of those sessions.

A Sun Chronicle story at the time described the three days the sessions took place in late September 2016, five years ago.

“Almost 50 people, including students, teachers, administrators, school board members, city councilors, architects, the mayor and community members spent seven hours a day for three days this week mulling what the components of a school designed for 21st century teaching and learning should include.”

At the time it had yet to be decided if a new school would be built or if the old high school would be remodeled.

The current Attleboro High School’s oldest section opened on Sept. 5, 1962, taking the place of a then 50-year-old structure on County Street. An addition opened 11 years later on Sept. 11, 1973, after the student population ballooned to 2,400 from 1,100 in just 11 years, according to an article in The Attleboro Sun. Since then the population has leveled off to about 1,600.

In the end, it was decided a new school building was more cost effective and would maximize educational opportunities.

The Sun Chronicle story said whatever was built had to be flexible to accommodate changes in teaching and learning in a building that Jacobi said is expected to last 75 years.

“The brainstorming session, which took place at Sensata Technologies in the Attleboro Corporate Campus, focused on making the new structure flexible, partly to accommodate current technologies and teaching methods and partly to accommodate those to come.”

And security was a big issue.

“In a time of terrorism and attacks on innocents in schools and other places, security is paramount, and much discussion was held on that subject, with an emphasis on a single main entrance with secure internal entrances to different parts of the school.”

The aim was to maintain strict control over who comes in and where they go.

“But at the same time, there’s a need to make the school a welcoming place for the community that needs access to a variety school services and events.”

And that was done by putting Blue Pride Market Place in the front of the school with a separate entrance and making the gym and theater available through the back of the school.

By 2018, the city had a budget of $259.9 million.

And on April 3, 2018, 66 percent of city voters approved a tax increase to pay for the school.

And then on June 9, 2018, Consigli Construction Co. out of Milford was hired as the construction manager to build the school.

At the time, plans were not complete, but that was part of the plan.

The construction manager was to help with the design to make the project proceed smoothly.

Another Sun Chronicle story described it this way.

“Usually, the builder is hired after plans are complete, but the city opted to use the ‘construction management at-risk’ method, which allows the general contractor to help develop construction plans.

The method is employed to avoid costly design flaws and keep costs within budget.”

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And all that has worked well.

Communication among all the three main team members, Skanska, Kaestle Boos and Consigli along with 30 subcontractors has kept construction on time and on budget, Williams said.

Design details and other problems are worked out as the project unfolds, Craig Olsen of KBA said.

“We have 30 subcontractors working with the architects and coordinating with Consigli,” Williams said. “Collaboration is happening in real time. It’s incredible.”

Consigli senior project manager Steve Johnson said the 476,425-square-foot building will be ready for the city to move in starting on June 16, 2022.

There will still be some work to do, but it will be of the “touch-up” variety, items that may have been overlooked or flawed somehow and need correction.

Currently, some classrooms are complete.

They all have a window that can be opened and lights that automatically adjust brightness depending on how much daylight there is.

And they are designed to be “flexible” and allow collaboration.

The corridors outside are wide and will have furniture also meant for collaborative efforts.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the entire building is the cafeteria, which can be arranged to hold the whole school of about 1,600 students, if needed.

It’s also connected to the school’s gym and theater, making it one of the two public spaces in the school, which would be open to the public for plays or basketball games, for example.

The theater has about 800 seats and backs up to the carpentry shop to make the construction of sets convenient.

And there’s what could be called a grand staircase at the north end of the cafeteria where students can sit, eat or look out the glass wall at the south end, which overlooks the football stadium and will have a giant blue A embedded in it when done.

From the staircase, a person can see from the front of the school to the back looking through the library windows at the front and the south glass wall to the rear.

The library is in the center just above the main entrance.

On either side are two “houses” for a total of four containing classrooms in the front or north side of the building on the top three stories.

The Blue Pride Market Place is in the front of the building and is easily accessible to the public with its own entrance.

Some of the businesses in which students will get real-world experience include banking, graphic arts, cosmetology and food service.

That’s where the school’s bistro will be located.

The marketplace will be separated from the school by locked doors.

Olsen said the school has robust security measures in place.

“There are layers of security,” he said.

For example, palm print technology will be used for access to the early education wing on the first floor.

The Career and Technical Education wing will be in the back of the school.

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In April, as the finishing touches are put on the new building, demolition of the old will start.

The first part to go will be the pool area.

After school lets out and all reusable equipment is removed in the spring, the demolition of the rest will begin.

When that is done, the athletic fields will be installed and they will be in use by spring 2024.

“We have done our best to communicate our principles to this team which has done a fabulous job,” Jacobi said. “What we envisioned in 2016 and what the school department wrote in its education plan is there in front of you.”

George W. Rhodes can be reached at 508-236-0432.

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