Ooos, aahs, and genuine surprise were the reactions of the Watertown School and City officials this week when they got a look inside the temporary high school going up at Moxley Field.
Right now, the area between Main Street and Watertown Middle School has a bit of a barren feel, with the grey modulars in a large U on top of bare earth. Inside, the building feels much more like a typical school. The walls and ceilings are complete, except for the seams between the modules and the ceilings, which will be installed after the lights, electrical wires, fire sprinkler system and other systems are installed.
By August, the Moxley Campus will have a green quad next to the building, a parking lot, and the inside will be ready to house Watertown High School students for the next few school years while a new, permanent WHS building is constructed on the current site.
School Committee Chair Kendra Foley liked what she saw inside the school. This came as a bit of a relief for Foley, with two of her three children set to spend part of their high school careers at the temporary school.
“Did I have some trepidation? Absolutely!” Foley said. “It’s amazing to think about, when they first started I was having a panic: Oh, my God! What is this? What’s going to happen?”
Fellow School Committee member Jessica Middlebrook said the interior is much more impressive than the outside of the school.
“I think the thing that is most shocking, when you see it from the outside it looks like a bunch of boxes, but it is really big inside — spacious and full of light,” she said.
School Committee member David Stokes liked the spacious feel of inside the modular campus.
“There’s a lot of space here,” he said. “I think that you can do anything for a couple years, three years, but it looks real. It doesn’t look like a Lego set, which is what some people said.”
The modular high school will be used for three school years under the construction schedule, said Superintendent Dede Galdston.
“No more than three years, but it could be a little shorter. The last projection (for moving to the new High School) is April 2026, but if things get delayed it could be summer 2026,” Galdston said. “We keep saying we’ll move in when they’re done, but it won’t be more than three years.”
The demolition of the current WHS building is expected to start in mid-September, said City Council President Mark Sideris, who chairs the School Building Committee. Originally, School officials hoped to start in June, but it is the swing space for the WHS project, the Lowell School project and other programs in the District may not be ready, he said.
Each module looks the same from the outside — a 16 x 37 box. Inside, walls were installed when they were built in the factory in Pennsylvania to create the classrooms and hallways, said Jim Jordan, Ai3 Architects’ Partner in charge in Watertown. The hallways go through the middle of the module, which then links up with the next one.
“The way we put them together, we laid it out so that it gives you nice, wide hallways,” Jordan said.
Most of the classrooms will be 750 sq. ft., said Parker Helwig, Project Manager for J&J Contractors. The science classes will be about 50 percent larger.
The average size of the rooms at the current high school is 672 sq. ft., said Galdston, while some rooms at WHS are 500 sq. ft. She is familiar with what it is like to work in a modern modular classrooms.
“I started teaching in a modular, so I had a good sense of what they could be like,” Galdston said. “We kind of fought for the modulars because they are big and had great A/C so I kind of knew it was going to be better than what people thought it would be. (Having bigger rooms is) huge, that’s a major piece of teacher satisfaction and student satisfaction.”
At the intersections of the wings there will be girls and boys restrooms and some for staff, and on both floors, Helwig said.
The question of where students will eat lunch was raised by some of the people on the tour.
“There will be a couple options,” Galdston said. “There is going to be a cafeteria at Middle School, and there will be a quad area between the wings (of the modular school). There will be seating — benches — and we will try to get a tent so they can go out there even if it is raining.”
The food service will take place on the basement floor of the Middle School, while WMS students will eat in their current cafeteria on the main floor of the school. The small gym in the basement will also be used by WHS students. Galdston added that seniors will have off-campus privileges so they can leave to get lunch. The school is considering extending that privilege to juniors, as well, she said.
With two large schools next to each other, traffic was a concern for school officials and neighbors. WHS students who live 3/4 of a mile or more from the temporary school will have the option to sign up for free school bus service. Also, the start and end times for the High School are 45 minutes after those for the Middle School.
Sideris expects people to be impressed by the modular high school.
“I guarantee people will be pleased with it, because people aren’t expecting to see this,” Sideris said. “People are expecting to see a trailer, because everyone’s perception of a modular is a trailer.”
The public will get a chance to look around the Moxley campus when it is complete.
“We should be done here in late-July, something like that,” Sideris said. “Then they’ll start moving furniture over. At some point in August we’ll probably do an open house.”