New Somerville High School Now Open
Building to serve urgent pandemic needs to start, welcoming highest needs and younger students first
The new Somerville High School is ready for its debut. In an opening no one could have envisioned at the project’s outset, the building welcomed younger students starting March 4 as part of the district’s phased return to in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are so excited for our students who will learn here over the years. But this is a bittersweet moment. We had imagined we would open up this building to our high school students. But the pandemic has robbed us of that as it has robbed us of so much,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone. “To our high school students and families, I want you to know we are working on options to get you access to the building sooner, and of course we look forward to when it will be safe for all of our students to return to their usual schools. For now, I want to recognize your sacrifice and thank you for allowing our highest needs students into the space as we work toward broader opening.”
Planning for the new school began in 2012, with the community becoming critical catalysts at every stage. Designs grew out of an intensive community process, local leaders shepherded the project via the Somerville High School Building Committee, and residents voted overwhelmingly to fund the school in 2016 via the city’s first debt exclusion. Construction began in April 2018.
The six-story, 396,000-square-foot building features 14 specialized learning spaces for each of the Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, 12 science labs, three art rooms, three music rooms, a multilevel media center, a fully renovated gymnasium, a collegiate-style lecture hall, outdoor learning and dining areas, and state-of-the-art technology throughout. Large exposures bring in natural light and create connections with the surrounding environment. Occupying one of the oldest civic spaces in the city, the new SHS design also takes care to commemorate its history: The original 1895 school and the front of the 1929 War Memorial building were preserved, and hundreds of artifacts were salvaged from the old school and incorporated into the new one.
The new high school was designed to support a wide range of teaching and learning methodologies, expanding educational opportunities for students and preparing them for future success in college and the workforce. In contrast to the previous school, the new SHS delivers dramatic improvements in both the quality and organization of the spaces to encourage authentic, multidisciplinary learning experiences. The CTE areas, for example, are now located throughout the building, rather than in their own wing, to better support interdisciplinary learning, and the new outdoor instruction areas and large-group facilities support a stronger connection to the community and “beyond the classroom” learning.
“This project represents not only the educational vision of Somerville students, families, and staff. It also represents the heart of this amazing community,” added Superintendent of Schools Mary Skipper. “As you walk through the building, evidence of the thought and care that went into planning, designing, and building a teaching and learning facility that will serve generations of students for years to come, and one that will also serve as a gathering place for our community, are evident at every turn. We had envisioned a much different kind of celebration, one that focused on our Somerville High School students and staff, acknowledging the tremendous sacrifice that they have made to ensure that this project came to fruition. Unfortunately, like so many things over the course of the last 12 months, COVID has necessitated a different approach. We look forward with great anticipation to properly celebrating the opening of this beautiful state-of-the-art facility in the company of our students, staff, and members of the community once it is safe to do so. In the meantime, we are committed to looking at ways to give Somerville High School students, especially the class of 2021, access to this wonderful new facility.”
In addition to providing a modern learning environment for students, the new building will serve as a premier gathering space for all Somerville residents. The lecture hall, field house, and auditorium will offer diverse options for community meetings or events, a much-needed public amenity. On top of Central Hill between City Hall and the public library, the new campus’s indoor and outdoor spaces will be a fixture of both academic and civic life in Somerville for decades to come.
“This is an incredible milestone for our entire community, one that we have all been anxiously awaiting. This project speaks to the commitment of the Somerville community to our kids and their future,” added School Committee Chair Andre Green. “It goes without saying that we wish this historic moment had come under very different circumstances. However, our current reality does not diminish the importance of this moment and what it means for the future of our students. I cannot adequately express my gratitude to the Somerville community, and in particular to our Somerville High School students and staff, for your patience, strength, and resilience throughout this project.”
“Our new high school is the tangible result of our city’s deep commitment to education. The people of Somerville approved our first-ever debt exclusion to build this school, and I hope everyone takes a moment to appreciate the lasting legacy of our collective decision. In the future, people will be able to take for granted how much effort had to be marshaled to make that building a reality. I want to thank everyone who committed in the present to support our students going forward,” said Mayor Curtatone. “Institutions like our high school form the bedrock of our community. They play a central role in every initiative we undertake to better our society. Our schools prepare our youth to give back, contribute, and carry us forward. Quality schools like this take just a few years to prepare our graduates to seize a lifetime of opportunity.”
Work continues on the auditorium and cosmetology lab, expected to be completed later this spring, and on the athletic field behind the school, expected to be completed in spring 2022.
Learn more about the new school, see photos, and take a virtual 3D tour at shsproject.org.
Summary of Building Features
- The new building is designed for 1,590 students, which includes capacity for 1,515 students within Somerville High School and 75 students for the Next Wave / Full Circle schools.
- It’s roughly 396,000 square feet, compared to the old school, which totaled 360,000 square feet.
- More than 200 different items, from archways to artifacts to furniture, were salvaged from the old school and incorporated throughout the new one.
- Fourteen specialized CTE spaces include electrical trade, graphic design, architecture, engineering, health and dental programs, culinary arts, automotive technology, and more. Programs are located throughout the building to integrate vocational and traditional academic programming and are highly visible to showcase student work.
- The building also supports a number of public-facing services, including a student-run restaurant and bistro, hair salon, and auto-repair bays, the Cambridge Health Alliance Teen Health Center, and the Somerville Child Care Center.
- The renovated Brune Field House features a new roof with photovoltaic panels, acoustic improvements, new HVAC and fire-protection systems, a competition basketball/volleyball court with wood parquet floor and resilient rubber subsurface, two practice courts, a weight room, a dance studio, relocated locker rooms, an extended bleacher bank for more than 1,500 students, a massive projection screen, and a wood-veneered climbing wall.
- Air handling in the building exceeds code requirements and guidelines established for virus transmission risk.
- The building exterior has been certified by the Air Barrier Association of America for energy efficiency and healthy occupancy.
- The Highlander Forum lecture hall, with stadium seating for 100 people, and the new auditorium, with seating for 750 people, will host educational and community-related events.
- Classrooms feature interactive technology and adaptable furniture and maximize teaching surface to support dynamic class configurations and a student-centered learning experience.
- A rooftop courtyard with plantings, chalkboards, and seating provides space for learning or social gatherings, as well as a safe, outdoor environment for medically fragile students.
- A new Somerville GovTV studio will be shared by City Hall and the SHS broadcast program.
- A variety of stormwater management techniques and strategies were incorporated to collect rain water and use it for irrigation throughout the site.