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Editorial: 21st-century Easthampton High

Easthampton High school.

Easthampton High school. Purchase photo reprints »

It was a long, slow road to a new, state-of-the-art high school in Easthampton. At points, advocates for the project may have thought it an impossible dream.

The dream came to fruition last month when students and teachers settled in at the $39.2 million school that is breathtaking in what it offers the students who learn in it, faculty who teach in it and the community that is so deeply invested in it.

The 110,400-square-foot new building, located on the same high school campus where the former building — a 52-year-old structure that was outdated, overcrowded and crumbling — has features that weren’t even in the realm of possibility when the former high school was built.

It has solar panels and sensors that adjust classroom lighting as the daylight changes in the course of a school day. The shop classroom has computer design equipment, welding booths and a three-dimensional printer. The gymnasium is double the size of the old gym, and has automatic room dividers and a climbing wall.

The technological capacity is something never before seen in any school in the city — building-wide Wi-Fi access, up-to-date equipment, online display boards for all classrooms. It has an Information Media Center, basically a high-tech library. One building committee member said with the new high school, the city “bypassed the 20th century and moved into the 21st.”

The new technology is not merely bells and whistles, it allows the school to offer a wider range of academic offerings. Nearly 30 new courses are being offered in the fall, many directly tied to the building’s new technological capabilities. Among the topics: forensic science, robotics, computer game design, computer programming, design and engineering, and a host of new arts offerings.

Other features of the new building include much more room and equipment for the art program, and modernized space for the music and the theater departments.

The effort to get a new high school built in Easthampton began in 1998 when a committee formed to size up the school building needs for the city. In the beginning the panel identified the needs as a new high school and an elementary school project, but by 2007, the city set its top school building priority as the high school.

In 2010 two key hurdles were jumped, when the state approved the high school project and committed to paying for 64 percent of the project, and then voters overwhelmingly approved an $18.1 million debt exclusion override to pay for the city’s portion of the costs. The fact that the override won by a nearly 3-1 margin is a testament to the depth of support the project had among city residents.

Construction began in May 2011 and continued into this year, finishing up both on time and under budget.

That means the people of Easthampton will have less of a debt to pay than the $18.1 million debt exclusion override they approved in 2010, so the taxpayers of the city will get a break here.

No doubt when Easthampton High School’s class of 2013 holds its graduation ceremonies in the new building June 7, everyone there will be celebrating both for the newly-minted graduates and the newly-minted building.

Advocates for the new Easthampton High School have a great deal to be proud of — and the school was proudly on display for more than 1,000 visitors at last Saturday’s open house.

And even better, generations of Easthampton students will reap the benefits.

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