The quest for a new AHS


Photos by: Mark Stockwell-Sun Chronicle Staff

By: Abigail DesVergnes 

They’re calling it a renovation, but really the city is looking to rebuild Attleboro High School from the inside, out. Essentially, it would be a new school.

When — and if — the project is completed in the summer of 2022, today’s high school freshmen will be half-way through college.
And, that’s a big “IF.”
The renovation could cost as much as $120 million, and would require voters to approve a temporary tax increase through a Proposition 2½ override to pay for it.
Even with a 60.57 percent reimbursement from the state it could cost tax payers about $48 million.
The first step is to find out exactly how much the project will cost, and how much the city can afford. To do that, a study will be launched in September to determine what must be done to bring the 54-year-old, 428,000-square-foot building up to 21st-century standards.
A study is required, but students and staff at Attleboro High already have plenty of ideas.
Here’s a walk-through of the sprawling, maze-like complex.

The Science Department
The future is science, and there’s a national call for more science majors. Yet, AHS opened days before the Cuban Missile Crisis, during the administration of President John F. Kennedy, at the apex of the Cold War.
There have been upgrades since then, of course, and Attleboro High offers an array of science classes in a variety of disciplines, but students complain the infrastructure has fallen way behind.
“If the science lab was provided with improved equipment, it would enhance our learning capabilities tremendously,” junior Advanced Placement biology student Katherine Furtado said.
Senior AP chemistry student Keegan Douglass often works in lab with computers based off graphing calculators to find the pH of substances.
“Many of the products are old and some of the wires are broken, leaving very few products to function properly,” Douglass said.
Not only does the equipment need improvement, students say, so does the furniture.
“It’s time for the stools and benches in the lab to be replaced,” junior AP biology student Brielle Ciccio said. “Most of the equipment seems to be past its expiration by now.”

Art Department
What is art instruction without light and space?
Teachers at AHS are looking for both.
“There is not enough space in my classroom to organize all of my materials, and for the students to be comfortable at work,” painting teacher Lindsay Nygaard said.
Nygaard and many in her department — including students — hope the renovation will include open and spacious classrooms.
“When I’m painting, I often have to shuffle my work around to finish,” senior painting student Fatima MacDonald said.
Many of MacDonald’s classmates agree their workspace offers limited elbow room.

Library Media Center
There’s a reason schools today no longer call a big room with books, “The Library.”
It’s function goes way beyond that.
Today’s library media center is a space for research, collaboration and creativity. The traditional library doesn’t suit the needs of a world steeped in technology.
“The Internet age has transformed the image of a library,” library and media specialist Lisa Ryder said. “An area with an open floor plan and collaborative media learning centers would be a necessity for this rapidly changing environment.”
Ryder, along with paraprofessional Natalie Carr, recommend a space built around flexibility and versatility to accommodate inevitable changes to come in a high-tech learning environment.

Lunch is a time for students to unwind and take a break from their tightly scheduled days — to enjoy and recharge themselves.
And, of course, to eat.
That’s hard to do when, in warm months, all three AHS cafeterias feel like airless saunas.
“The cafeteria needs air conditioning. I see kids coming into the lunch rooms sweating in the summer,” said Whitsons Food service worker Gwen Vieira. “It’s not a good environment for students.”
The worn and chipped paint on the walls of the cafeteria isn’t very appetizing, either.
“Just by simply repainting these walls, the space would look a lot better,” Whitsons Food service worker Linda Chabot said.

Health and Physical Education Department
The goal is improving overall student wellness, but that’s not easy in a space built long before anyone took girls’ athletics seriously — no matter how many upgrades or work-arounds have been attempted.
The classrooms and gymnasiums lack resources to meet today’s needs, students and staff complain.
Look no farther than the locker rooms.
“There aren’t enough lockers in the girls’ locker room, and because of that, theft is an issue,” PE teacher Lauren Checksfield said.
Junior track athlete Chloe Vieira has been advocating for new locker rooms since the start of the school year, even circulating a petition that has garnered 448 signatures.
“I’m hoping the girls’ locker room will be on the list of renovations. It’s time to reflect the pride students feel by improving our high school,” Vieira said.
Meanwhile, the fitness and weight room is used not only during the school year, but during the summer months when football players train in the space almost every day.
There is no air conditioning.
“I know there are a lot of guys and girls in the weight room who complain about the heat,” soccer and lacrosse athlete Paul DeLuca said. “It would be a better workout environment if there was air conditioning to keep us cool.”

Career and Technical Education Program
Students in the career and technical education program are as highly motivated and serious about their studies and future careers as Advanced Placement students are about their’s.
Attleboro High is fortunate and among relatively few schools to have a technical program, but teachers say better equipment and infrastructure — despite recent upgrades for programs such as plumbing — are needed to give students a leg up before moving on to additional training.
“The labs need to be brought up to the 21st century industry standards,” CTE Director Susan Edmonds said. “I want customers to be able to enter these facilities, and feel as if they are in a professional shop.”
New equipment and better wireless Internet connections throughout the workshops would help.
“To meet 21st century standards, wi-fi needs to be provided,” automotive teacher Bob Vinskus said.
Students agree.
“It takes a while to look up parts on the computer,” junior automotive student Veecheat Sim said. “If the shop is provided with a stronger wireless connection and new computers, it would make everything much easier.”
Junior automotive student Mike Frazetti says the same.
“New equipment such as code readers would help students like me keep up with the new equipment coming out in the automotive field,” he said.
And, all agree more locker space is needed for both girls and boys as the gender gap continues to shrink in what once was male-oriented classrooms.

City officials, school administrators and the school committee are all huddled in discussion of the proposed renovation and any implications that might arise.
High school Principal Bill Runey recognizes the huge expenditure needed for such a project, but says it’s long overdue.
“I believe it’s important that our students are able to learn in a 21st century environment, and it’s our responsibility to prepare them for the next step,” he said.
Runey encourages parents and students to become involved by attending open houses and public forums as the proposal moves forward. A project website also is in the works.
He described the project as an “occupied renovation,” meaning students will be in the building while reconstruction goes on. Some classes will be taught in modular classrooms, and others in the network building — ironically, the old high school on County Street.
“I’m very thankful for our school committee,” Runey said. “I hope the momentum of Blue Pride will be an influence throughout this entire process.”