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Ground broken for new Avery School

Posted by Johanna Seltz  October 15, 2010 12:00 PM

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Avery School students helped shovel the dirt at the formal groundbreaking for their new school, which is scheduled to be completed by March of 2012.

The $21.1 million elementary school is being built on five acres on Pottery Lane, next to Dedham High School, and will share a shorter but refurbished practice field with the high school athletes.

The three-story design is almost double the size of the existing Avery School, with 61,000 square feet of space and room for 310 students. The current Avery, which was built in 1921, houses 226 students in grades one through five.

Workers have begun clearing trees and demolishing an old basketball court and skateboard park at the site, said Andy Lawlor, chairman of the committee overseeing the project.

He said workers will start pouring the concrete foundation next month, with steel going up over the winter. The school is scheduled to be finished by March of 2012, although school officials haven't decided on a move-in date, he said.

In 2007, the state ranked the Avery as one of the worst elementary facilities in Massachusetts, calling it outdated and overcrowded. The state awarded Dedham a $11.1 million grant to build a new school, and voters approved their share of the cost last spring.

Besides more space and modern heating, lighting and plumbing, the new school will be handicapped accessible and have a cafeteria, music room, media center, special education classrooms, and more parking.

At the same time, the town is building a $3.1 million high school athletic complex, which includes a synthetic turf field, six-lane regulation track and jump pits, and new home bleachers, rest rooms, press box, scoreboard and sound system.

Work on the athletic complex is expected to be done by July of 2011.

During construction, the high school’s outdoor teams are playing all their games away, said Principal Jacob Santamaria.

“We’ll be inconvenienced for a while, but I keep looking at the big picture,” Santamaria said. “We know kids are playing on the road, and that’s tough, but it’s going to be a beautiful facility and we’re all looking forward to it.”

The Avery School replacement is the second step in a 25-year facility improvement plan that began with modernizing the high school's science labs and building a new Middle School, Lawlor said.

Next step will be renovating the old Dexter School for the town-wide early childhood education center, he said. The 50-year-old school closed more than two decades ago and is rented to a day care center and educational collaborative, he said.

The early childhood center currently is at the Capen School, "another one of our aging facilities" and will be used by Oakdale students when that elementary school is renovated, he said.

The town has about 2,900 students in four neighborhood elementary schools, a high school, middle school and early childhood education center.

This fall, the Avery School, which is located in East Dedham, was tagged as “under-performing” in math by federal No Child Left behind guidelines, and parents were offered a choice of transferring to another school in the district.

School officials said only eight children chose to leave the Avery, and six of them were either new to the district or needed to attend other schools for reasons unrelated to the concern about math scores.

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seelenfam@verizon.net.

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