By BOB TUROSZ
NORTH READING – With speeches and song and a ceremonial ribbon cutting, the North Reading community held the grand opening on Saturday, Sept. 20 for its new high school, the first portion of the $122 million construction project that has been underway on top of the hill overlooking Route 62 for two years. In a year from now, in 2015, there will be a similar opening ceremony for the new middle school going up behind and attached to the new North Reading High School.
Hundreds of people attended the grand opening ceremony held in the school’s performing arts center and took advantage of the self-directed tours with student docents, which ran until 1 p.m.
In the performing arts center, speakers thanked members of the Secondary Schools Building Committee, town officials and state legislators for working so hard to make the project a reality. But sincere thanks also went to the North Reading community for supporting the project in the face of cost overruns and demonstrating faith in the future of the town’s young people.
“It’s hard to believe that two years ago, where you’re standing now, is where we started this project,” said SSBC Chairman Chuck Carucci. “It has been a labor of love for all of us who have worked on the project and we do appreciate the town coming forward to support this town project.”
State Rep. and House Minority Leader Brad Jones, NRHS Class of 1983, said this was a great day for the community of North Reading. He thanked the taxpayers of the town and the state for supporting the project, which he called a “living legacy of one generation to the next.”
He urged the school’s future students to “carpe diem – seize the day” with the boundless opportunities the new school has to offer. “The opportunities you create will be for yourselves and your future.”
Sen. Tarr joked that unlike Jones, he didn’t have the opportunity to attend the old NRHS but, after seeing the new building, he was applying to do post-graduate work.
Tarr said he appreciates the community’s residents who agreed to invest in the future by raising their taxes for the project. “Because of that, Brad Jones and I were able to leverage state investment because this community rose to the challenge.”
Other speakers included Barbara Hansberry, deputy executive director of the Massachusetts School Building Authority. While the Commonwealth contributed $49 million to the total construction costs, it was the taxpayers of North Reading who stepped up in such a big way to make it possible, she said. “It warms my heart to know North Reading children will receive this type of education,” she said.
For most people, opening a new high school is a once in a lifetime opportunity, said Selectmen Chairman Robert Mauceri. North Reading last did it nearly 60 years ago and that building, which is now the temporary middle school, served the community well.
“So let us celebrate this opening, take pride in its grandeur and most of all, thank those who contributed to its success,” he said. When the SSBC was first established by Town Meeting in 2001, who would have imagined it would ever take so long to get to this point, he asked. He credited Carucci, who has been chairman of the SSBC for all that time, and the other members who stuck with the project even as it faced challenges along the way, as well as the town’s Selectmen, School Committee and Supt. Kathleen Willis.
Recently appointed Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto acknowledged he joined the SSBC late but as a resident of town he’s been following the project since 2011. “This project is really a reflection of the strength of our community and our town and what we can do when we work together.”
School Committee Chairman Jerry Venezia also thanked the community for financially supporting the project twice – the second time coming when cost overruns developed. He urged the community to be proud of the facility and enjoy it. “I hope every single one of you has the opportunity to enjoy this facility, it’s your building,” he said.
“Just about a year from now we’ll be opening the new middle school,” he said to applause. He thanked community activists like Geoff Simons, Marci Bailey and Deanna Castro who went out and pounded the pavement in support of the project.
High School principal and superintendent-elect Jon Bernard cited the community’s moral and financial support of the project and said he was could not be more proud to be principal in such a community.
“This school stands as a monument to the care and concern for our future and the welfare and educational opportunities of the thousands of students who will benefit from this spectacular institution of learning,” Bernard said.
There was video presentation and time lapse photo montage of all images captured of the project by Simons, the project’s unofficial photographer and students also played an important part in the ceremonies. Noteorious, the high school’s a cappella group, opened the program by singing the National Anthem and students in grades 5-12 inspired the audience with a video and choral presentation titled “Imagining the Possibilities.”
Afterward, four members of the student body: Matthew Stead, Class of 2015, Nicolas O’Connell, Class of 2016, Jenson Kaithamattam, Class of 2017 and Guiliana Peppe, Class of 2018 took part in the ceremonial ribbon cutting. The rest of the morning was devoted to self-guided tours of the school for the general public, aided by student docents.