Town leaders get sneak peek at new MinnechaugBy Chris Maza
WILBRAHAM Local media and those involved with the years of planning that went into the creation of the new Minnechaug Regional High School building were given the opportunity for a sneak peak at the school prior to its opening next week.
Members of the Boards of Selectmen for Hampden and Wilbraham as well as current and former members of the School Committee and School Building Committee and others were on hand as Superintendent M. Martin O'Shea and Principal Stephen Hale greeted them in the cafeteria for some brief words before sending them out on self-guided tours of the facility.
"Mr. Hale is pretty particular about the building. He normally asks people to leave their shoes at the door, so you're fortunate to come in with your shoes on," O'Shea joked before thanking everyone who played a part in the school's construction since the idea was first broached in 2004. "To see it go from that stage where it was an idea to a reality where we're ready to open on Aug. 29 is incredibly exciting."
O'Shea touted the school's "flexible design," which he said would allow the school to continue to grow and change as new educational practices and technologies.
To that point, Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee Chair and candidate for 12 Hampden District state representative John McCarthy said he was glad that he and others pushed for a wireless element to the building's infrastructure, which would, in time, allow the school to reach its goal of a one-to-one computer-to-student ratio.
Hale spoke of the extremely modern technology that keeps the building running at peak efficiency, using the pool's filtration system the same one used in the pools at the London Olympics as an example.
"It's a chlorine-based filtration system, but what it does is alter the water molecules and creates a base of [hydroxide] and [hydrogen] and that balances the pH with very minimal amounts of chlorine," he said. "To me, that's mind blowing that there is a machine here that can change water molecules to make things more efficient."
Hale also pointed out that the lighting system is controlled through a web-based system so complex that every light ballast has it's own IP address with specific control features.
In addition to the building itself being more modern, the school will contain 830 new devices including desktop and laptop computers and iPads.
While those attending the sneak preview were given maps and left to their own devices in exploring the school, students will not be left to wander the hallways aimlessly, Hale said.
"Normally you only have to orientate the freshmen," he said. "This year we have to orientate the seniors, the juniors, the sophomores and the freshmen."
McCarthy lauded the efforts to make Minnechaug a "safer school" and a community resource.
"Not only will we have a great high school for our students, we'll have facilities for adult education, a new pool and we'll be able to use the auditorium for events," he said. "I think it's a great investment that the community has made."
Scott Chapman, former School Committee chair who was part of the project since its inception, called the ability to stand in the finished product "gratifying."
"It's a little overwhelming," he said. "People really gave a lot of time, sweat and intelligence to get this beautiful school off the ground. It's something we can be really proud of. I know I'm really proud and everyone should be proud."
Chapman credited both towns with being fully committed to the completion of the project, and offering a wide range of expertise to the table..
"The great thing about this was both [Boards of Selectmen] were on board," he said, "In 2005 when we constituted the building committee, I look back at all the names and the composition of that committee and you've got engineers and retired school principals and all these people with a common interest making a 21st century school."
John Lovejoy, chair of the School Building Committee also thanked the Massachusetts School Building Authority for its work with the town, not only in providing a large portion of the funding, but also working with the committee and the towns to resolve issues.
While the school officially opens for classes on Aug. 29, the district has scheduled two open houses for the public to tour the building on Aug. 29 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. and Sept. 8 from 8:30 to 10 a.m. The annual fall open house for parents of Minnechaug students is scheduled for Sept. 13.
An official ribbon cutting ceremony will take place on Sept. 22.