Edgartown Project Concludes in Time for Return to Classes

By MANDY LOCKE

The white classroom trailer that was parked in front of the Edgartown School for the last year is finally gone. A few small piles of debris remain where the hallway connecting the 1929 brick school building and the gymnasium once stood. A handful of construction workers is completing an awning covering the new school's entrance.

This is the home stretch of a two-year-long construction project aimed to move Edgartown's 366 elementary and middle school students out of an old and outgrown school to a modern facility designed to house 550 children.

Edgartown school building committee members walked out of their 104th meeting last Friday morning and strolled through the halls examining a few recently completed punch list items. The custodial staff, with Michael Lynch in the lead, mopped and waxed the floors in the year-old elementary wing and the recently completed middle school wing.

"For the first time, Mike's got a bigger office than Ed," school building committee member Larry Mercier said jokingly to Mr. Lynch as the group walked past the empty janitor's closet.

J&J Contractors of Lowell, which is completing the $16.7 million project, will be working down to the wire to complete the second wing before the first day of school Sept. 4.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed," said principal Edward Jerome, reminiscing about last year's mandatory field trips during the first week of school for the youngest Edgartown students. Unexpected delays in the first wing last summer forced school officials to relocate kindergartners through fourth graders to churches and other buildings around downtown Edgartown for several days. Officials hope to avoid a repeat of that this year, but know that it will take every bit of the 13 days remaining to tie up loose ends. Landscaping, irrigation work, fencing and the rerouting of Robinson Road will continue through the fall.

The fifth through eighth grade wing was the last piece of a multi-phase construction project. Part of the former school, built in 1956 with additions in 1979 and 1986, fell to the wrecking ball last summer to create space for the new wing. Full-size lockers now line a hallway highlighted in dull yellow, green and orange shapes and designs. For the first time, fifth graders will be getting their own lockers.

On Friday, the only things missing from the middle school wing were teachers, desks, supplies and students - the final pieces of the puzzle expected to fall into place over the coming three weeks.

The gymnasium, which also serves as the school's theatre, also received some improvements over the last two years. The structure is now outfitted with a sprinkler system and a wheelchair lift to the stage.

A middle school courtyard is cradled between the newest wing, the gym and the remaining 1929 brick school building. While it needs a bit of yard work before middle-schoolers can gather there in the mornings, Mr. Jerome hopes that this space may also function as an outdoor venue for small-scale concerts during warm weather.

The computer room - one of the new school's shared facilities located at the junction of the elementary and middle school wings - is ready for users. This "one size fits all" lab, as Mr. Jerome calls it, adjusts to older and younger students alike. The chairs scoot up and down, and the crane-neck monitors also bend to meet youngsters at eye level.

Locating the library, cafeteria, main office, guidance and the nurse's station in the center of the two age-appropriate wings, Mr. Jerome said, minimizes travel time.

"It increases time on learning. The students are not spending five minutes getting from one area to the next," Mr. Jerome said.

Elementary students will get to cut the ribbon on the new playground on the first day of school - christening the new equipment with a morning recess.

Edgartown voters will get to use the cafeteria's stage Tuesday night, August 26, for a special town meeting called to increase the borrowing capacity for the construction project. Voters will be asked to increase the total bond amount authorized in 2000 from $16.1 million to $16.7 million. The state's financial contribution to the project increased from 2000 to 2001, when town officials awarded the bid. The increased authorization is not expected to place additional financial burden on the town. The school committee said the project will meet its budget.