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In Plymouth, a surge of school pride

The courtyard at the new Plymouth North High, which was built for $83 million. The courtyard at the new Plymouth North High, which was built for $83 million. (Robert E. Klein for the Boston Globe)
By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / August 30, 2012
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With its red-brick exterior, soon to be capped by a steeple, the new Plymouth North High School reflects the Federal architectural style of the town’s original high school.

The $83 million building, said Superintendent Gary Maestas, “fits Plymouth.”

But although the exterior of the school — which will open Tuesday on time and under budget — draws from the past, its interior employs the latest in technology.

A solar array will offset about 20 percent of the school’s electricity cost, and a rain-collection system will reduce the water consumption by supplying water to toilets, said Christopher Hastings, the school district’s energy conservation coordinator. The school also features a well-insulated shell to cut heating and cooling costs, and a sensor system that shuts off lights when rooms are unoccupied.

With measures like these, the building has earned the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, “gold” rating.

Other amenities include classrooms with so-called smartboards, projectors, and voice-amplification systems. A “wireless Internet blanket” will enable students to “walk from one end of the building to the other” without ever losing their connection, Maestas said.

The superintendent is particularly proud of the technology wing, which houses an engineering program, computer design section, allied health program linked to Jordan Hospital, and a facilities-maintenance program for training in the trades.

The school also has an enormous gymnasium circled by a track, a modern cafeteria and library, a spacious auditorium, and a 120-seat lecture hall, where college classes may be offered via Skype to high school students.

The Class of 1982, in town for its 30th reunion, got a preview of the facility last Saturday, and marveled at the beauty of the creamy yellow walls and generous use of blond oak paneling.

“I’m overwhelmed,” said Debbi Nueslein, a 1982 graduate who lives in Virginia. “The science labs here are nicer than the ones we had in college.”

The original Plymouth High School still stands, and is used as the Nathaniel Morton Elementary School on Lincoln Street. The new 268,000-square-foot building on Obery Street will serve 1,225 students, and replaces a building that was constructed in the early 1960s. That facility used to be Plymouth-Carver Regional High School, before Carver established its own school district in the 1980s.

In the succeeding years, the former Plymouth North, which is being demolished, developed a long list of shortcomings.

Portable classrooms, used to supply additional space for the last 20 years, suffered from leaks and mold problems. Two years ago, a raccoon fell through the ceiling during an English class, landing on a student’s desk before scurrying out the door. But due to the need for space, classes continued there until last June.

In 2006, Plymouth voters took a leap of faith and authorized up to $199 million in temporary tax increases to address the needs of a soaring population and deteriorating facilities, with the money to be spent on the town’s two high schools, Plymouth North and Plymouth South, and construction of a senior center. At the time, the School Department had yet to put together a definitive plan.

Plymouth North was later deemed the top priority, and construction of an 18,000-square-foot senior center was scheduled to coincide with the building of the school. The senior center should be ready to open by the end of this year.

The superintendent expects the school’s final cost to be $83 million, considerably lower than the projected $88 million. Moreover, the town’s bill was reduced considerably by participating in the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s “model school” program.

Under that program, new schools use existing designs for other schools and the state reimburses part of the cost. In this case, Plymouth used a slightly tweaked version of designs originally drawn up for Whitman-Hanson Regional High School, and the state kicked in about $44 million.

The last phase of the school project, which will take place through the coming school year, calls for construction of some athletic fields and a student parking lot. An existing football field has been totally refurbished and is ready for play this fall. With Plymouth North nearly completed, school administrators are preparing state-required paperwork for a feasibility study to determine the needs for Plymouth South High.

Peta Shepherd, a parent who helped organize the Educate Plymouth group that lobbied for the tax increase, toured the new school earlier this month. “I think it all came together because everyone realized how important it was to the town,” she said. “The new school is spectacular.”

The 1982 alumni were equally impressed during Saturday’s tour.

Carolyn Blethen, whose daughter is set to start her senior year in the new building, said, “These children will have so many more opportunities than we had.”

“Can I go back to school?” quipped another 1982 graduate, Christine Albert. “I might be a better student.”

The school district has scheduled a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Plymouth North for 6 p.m. Sept. 8. The public is invited to attend and tour the new school.

Visit www.bostonglobe.com/south to see a photo gallery of Saturday’s tour of Plymouth North High School.

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.

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