Sullivan School pupils take a turn at 'groundbreaking' for the new Colegrove Park Elementary School.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The new Colegrove Park Elementary School project was officially launched at noontime on Wednesday with a host of dignitaries and ubiquitous gold shovels.
The groundbreaking on the long-awaited school building project on East Main Street is an indication of the city's resilience, said State Treasurer Steven Grossman, chairman of the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
"When a city like this has gone through the challenges that you have gone through even as recently as the end of March with the closing of a hospital, there are two ways we can go," he said. "... we can say you know, I don't know if it's possible to rebuild or the people of a city can come together and show their character and values ...
"And that's exactly what the people of this city have done."
The path to a new school has been long and not without controversy. The planning began some seven years ago to address the space needs of the city's elementary schools and the perceived failing of the middle school model.
Conte Middle School was closed in 2009 partly because budgetary issues and the city piloted a new academic format that would add the eighth grade to the high school and Grades 6 and 7 to the elementary schools. Century-old Conte, which was originally Drury High School, was initially considered out of the picture.
But the design team hired by the School Building Committee returned a plan that would once again open its doors to the city's schoolchildren. But it would take an extra year to convince citizens the plan was sound, including a citywide petition referendum on the borrowing for the $29.6 million project.
Colegrove Park Elementary School, named for Jeremiah Colegrove, who came to what was then a village in 1793 to start a business, will replace Sullivan School that was built in the early 1960s. Sullivan Principal Shelley Fachini and a handful of pupils attended the ceremony.
"This is a very exciting day in the city of North Adams as we move this project forward after several years of planning and hard work," said Mayor Richard Alcombright to the guests circled around the side entrance, the heavy machinery already at work on the building in the background.
He thanked the City Council, committee members, state officials and "the wonderful people of North Adams who strongly pulled together to make this project happen." He particularly thanked parent Lynette Ritland Bond for her efforts with the Friends for North Adams Schools in spearheading the grassroots campaign that led to the school project victory just a year ago.
"I look forward to bringing the project to completion with all of you," the mayor said.
The MSBA is providing an 80 percent reimbursement on the project, expected to be completed in late summer 2015.
MSBA Executive Director Jack McCarthy said the Colegrove Park project will be academically suitable, high-tech, sustainable and cost-effective.
"Benjamin Franklin said an investment in education pays the best interest and we're proud to be your investment partner in this education to the tune of a little more than $23 million."
The vote to approve the borrowing on the school was close, he acknowledged, and he wondered why people would vote to raise their taxes.
"It's kind of counterintuitive, but then when I see these students seated in front of me it becomes crystal clear," McCarthy said. "The folks believe in you, they believe you deserve a first-rate 21st century learning environment and that's why they voted to raise their taxes."
He urged the Sullivan School pupils to thank their parents and the community for supporting them.
The group tossed the dirt from a neat pile, allowing the children to all take a turn with the shovels, with a little coaching from the treasurer.
"Today is about reaching for the sky, today is about getting beyond all the problems and challenges and say 'yes we can,'" said Grossman. "I want you kids to reach for the sky, to rejoice in this moment for years to come."
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