At Almost $200M, Newton North Shines

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Newton North High School seniors walked through the new campus on Tuesday. (Monica Brady-Myerov/WBUR)
Newton North High School seniors walked through the new campus on Tuesday. (Monica Brady-Myerov/WBUR)

After the controversy surrounding the construction of Newton North High School, you might think the town wouldn’t want to bring attention to its opening.

The project, which began as a $40 million renovation, grew to a $108 million new building — and will end up costing taxpayers more than $190 million. Newton will foot most of the bill, but the state kicked in about a quarter of the money. Newton Mayor Setti Warren admitted the costs bitterly divided residents, but said ultimately the community will benefit.

"At a time where we have a lot of cities and towns in economic duress we are very fortunate to have this building," Warren said.

The ballooning costs, due in part to the high price of steel and environmental problems found on the site, ended the political career of three-term Mayor David Cohen.

But at the school's opening, Cohen acted like a proud father.

"I am tremendously gratified that the building is opening; that it is on time, that it is a fantastic building," Cohen said.

It's also very big, and green-certified, with solar panels and rainwater collection. Some corridors are so bright you need sunglasses.

Principal Jennifer Price says the building will challenge students.

"From our innovation lab, to our new turf field, to our TV studio, to our robotics lab, to our beautiful science rooms, we stand poised to provide Newton children with one of the best educational experience in our country," Price said.

Ten years after voters first approved the project, Price threw open the doors and invited the Class of 2011 to enter first.

As she leads a tour, Price says the facilities rival any university's.

"This is is the indoor track practice field," Price said. "It gives us the opportunity to have indoor practices. Different sports, baseball, badminton courts, basketball. We are putting in a rock wall."

The climbing wall is just one of many luxury amenities. There's also a lecture hall that looks like a theater, and a press booth that overlooks the new football field.

Newton North's costs were higher because it's also a career and vocational technical school. There’s a private preschool on-site for students to learn child development, as well as a café and industrial kitchen run by students and a print shop that does all the printing for the district.

The new Newton North's main hallway. (Jeremy Bernfeld for WBUR)
The new school's main hallway (Jeremy Bernfeld for WBUR)

Such variety is costly, Price said.

"We educate a real diversity of students, that’s what makes this so exciting to lead, frankly," Price said. "It’s a comprehensive high school — very few of them left in the commonwealth of Massachusetts."

Price kept moving through the halls. "This is the wrestling room and the dance studio — hopefully not at the same time."

The library is called the Learning Commons, and it's set up to look like a coffee shop with a computer lab, Wi-Fi and interactive media.

"(We've) ordered Kindles for the students, some iPads. We’re going to have one room with news media moving all the time, so it’s really going to be an exciting space for our students," Price said, calling the space "the library meets Starbucks."

Incoming seniors in the hallway look a little overwhelmed.

"It's, like, bigger for sure," Olive Martins said. "The hallways, at least the set-up is different."

But Sarah Mead has a gripe with the facility. "There’s very little color, though, that’s the only thing I don’t like about it. It kind of reminds me of a hospital a little bit. It’s like, so white."

From the outside, it could be mistaken for a hospital. But city officials say repeatedly they want the new high school to be a hub of community involvement. A place where Newton residents, who will pay millions for the building over the next two decades, can swim in the pool, eat at the student-run café or stage a show.


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