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School sailing ahead

Set to open next year, new Plymouth North dwarfs its predecessor, reflecting growth of town

Construction continues on the new Plymouth North High School on Obery Street. It is to open for students in September 2012 and will replace the current building, erected in 1963. Construction continues on the new Plymouth North High School on Obery Street. It is to open for students in September 2012 and will replace the current building, erected in 1963. (George Rizer for The Boston Globe)
By Emily Sweeney
Globe Staff / September 29, 2011

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A giant new structure is rising near Plymouth North High School. The edifice of red brick and cast stone on Obery Street measuring 267,497 square feet looms large over the existing flat-roofed, 1960s-era Plymouth North building. Students, teachers, parents, and coaches can’t wait for its doors to finally open.

The massive size of the new high school illustrates just how much America’s Hometown has grown in recent decades. The town’s population has been on the upswing, growing from 14,445 in 1960 to more than 56,000 today.

The construction project is on time and on budget, according to school officials, and will cost about $88 million, a reasonable sum compared with the Newton North High School project, which cost $197.5 million. The building is scheduled to be completed in May and ready for students in September 2012.

Meanwhile, students continue to attend classes in the existing school, which opened in 1963 as Plymouth Carver Regional High School. The lighting, plumbing, and fire alarm systems are outdated. It has modular classrooms (not so affectionately dubbed “the portables’’) that were attached in 1985. Inside the school hallways, the air is humid and muggy. The roof needs to be replaced. During a recent storm, ceiling tiles fell onto the floor and garbage barrels were strategically placed in classrooms to collect leaking rainwater.

The new Plymouth North building was designed by Wayland-based Ai3 Architects LLC, which has designed several school buildings south of Boston, including Whitman-Hanson Regional High School, which opened in 2005, and the brand new Norwood High School.

Like Norwood High, Plymouth North is a “model school’’ project, its blueprint adapted from a previous design.

The architects describe the new Plymouth North as classically designed, inspired by the Federal style of the Massachusetts State House and the original Plymouth High School building, which now houses Nathaniel Morton Elementary School.

It will have an outdoor courtyard, a garden on the roof, solar panels, a system that recycles water, and electric car charging stations in the parking lot. The project is slated to receive a gold rating from the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program, which rates buildings on their sustainability and energy efficiency. (The builders originally hoped to earn the highest LEED rating - platinum - by installing a wind turbine on the campus, but that plan was dropped after neighbors voiced concern about the proposed turbine.)

Plymouth’s next Council on Aging building, also currently under construction, will overlook the school’s main athletic field, so senior citizens will have front-row seats for football games and easy access to the track for walking. The 18,000-square-foot senior center was incorporated into the high school campus on purpose, so youngsters would be able to interact and work with elders. The new facility will be twice the size of the existing senior center and will feature a dining hall, gift shop, kitchen, outdoor sitting areas, dropoff and pickup areas, parking lot, and an art and billiards room.

Once the new high school is complete, the old Plymouth Carver Regional High School will be demolished to make way for a new parking area and baseball and softball diamonds. Before it meets the wrecking ball, the school administration will host an informal road race around the building, aptly titled “The Last Lap.’’

Teachers and staff are excited about the new facility because “they’re going to have every tool imaginable,’’ said principal Kathleen E. McSweeney, who donned a hard hat and led a reporter and photographer on a tour of the construction site.

McSweeney said students are buzzing about the new athletic facilities (gigantic gymnasium! halftime building! turf fields! WiFi!)

McSweeney said that the new high school will feature state-of-the-art technology, and that every classroom will have smartboards, projectors, voice amplification systems, and Bose speakers. Wireless access to the Internet will be available throughout the building. “We want to equip kids with 21st-century skills,’’ she said.

On a recent afternoon, members of the Plymouth North High School football team were working out by the old school building, wearing blue and white Eagles jerseys, running drills and jumping rope while the sounds of construction vehicles buzzing and humming filled the air. All had good words for the new building emerging on the dusty construction site behind them.

“It’s going to be better,’’ said sophomore Pat Hicks.

“I think kids will like to go to school more,’’ said senior Hayden Gabriel.

Another senior, Jake Holmes, was disappointed he won’t get a chance to attend classes there, but is pleased with the project nonetheless. “It’s good for the town,’’ he said. “As seniors, it’s kind of a bummer. . . . But I’m looking forward to coming back.’’

Phys ed teacher Bill Drew graduated from the old building in 1979. He, too, is looking forward to next September.

“The whole community is excited about it, he said. “It’s long overdue.’’

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.