Old School Has New Look, Public Gets First Look Inside Lowell Elementary After Renovation

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Parents and students explore the learning commons, a new addition to Lowell Elementary School. (Photo by Charlie Breitrose)

Before the new Lowell Elementary School opened its doors on Tuesday afternoon, the hundreds gathers were entertained by student musicians, including the Lowell chorus who sang the Beatles’ song “Here Comes the Sun.” The song has a fitting line, “It seems like years since it’s been here.”

The sun shone on the ceremony held outside Lowell School. The outside looked very similar to the school the students, teachers and staff left a few years ago, but inside it is filled with light, and features an expanded cafeteria, a new library, and a group learning commons with windows stretching two stories skyward.

A boy peers into the food preparation area during the opening of the renovated Lowell School. (Photo by Charlie Breitrose)

The past few years, Lowell students have been going to school at either the Lowell West (the former St. Jude’s School in Waltham) or at the Phillips Building on Common Street. Principal Stacy Phelan gave credit to the Lowell community, especially the students, for enduring a testing time.

“I do want to take a minute to really thank the families of Lowell and the teachers and the staff and the students of Lowell. We’ve been through a lot the past two-and-a-half years, lots of things: we came off of COVID and then we went right into a building project,” Phelan said. “You have proven that you are strong, you have grit, you have stamina, you are a loving community. You make me want to come to work every single day. You make me a better person for it. I am so happy to have had all of your support because it has been tricky.”

A mother and child walk down the hallway of the newly renovated Lowell School. (Photo by Charlie Breitrose)

The opening of the Lowell School marks the end of Watertown’s elementary school building projects, said City Council President Mark Sideris, who chairs the School Building Committee.

“Back in 2016 and ’17 we started to talk about doing something with our schools, and on March 14, 2018, we formed a School Building Committee, took on all the projects at the elementary and the high school,” Sideris said. “And today we celebrate the final school in the elementary school process, which is the Lowell School.”

Originally, Lowell was first on the list of schools to be rebuilt, but instead the new Cunniff and Hosmer Schools moved ahead in the schedule, Phelan noted.

Assistant City Manager Steve Magoon, who is part of the School Building Committee, said that while the Lowell was a renovation project with major additions, the school feels like new.

“We built two brand new elementary schools and I think you will see this is very close to a third brand new elementary school,” Magoon said. “Although some of the structure is the same it is incredible.” 

Lunch bags with the new Lenny the Leopard logo were given out to Lowell School students. (Photo by Charlie Breitrose)

Phelan thanked Alex Sieving from Ai3 Architects, for designing the school.

“We were the first school that was supposed to be on the block for the elementary schools and then we ended up last,” Phelan said “Throughout that process it gave us a little more time. The time was very well spent. I feel as if Alex listened to every single wish and desire that every one of us had for what a perfect school would be, thinking about what makes us a really wonderful community.”

The new Lowell provides an inviting place for people to learn, Phelan said.

“When you go through and look at the detail it is a culmination of all the wonderful people who gave so much insight about what can be created when you really think about creating a perfect learning environment,” Phelan said. “The inside matches the outside, in that when you are in these classrooms they are serene, they are calm, they bring nature from the outside into the inside of the building. It really is a peaceful environment that makes me want to just spend oodles and oodles of time reading and learning and being with people.”

The sun shines into the new Lowell Schoool learning commons. (Photo by Charlie Breitrose)

Sideris thanked many of the people involved in making the school a reality, including the design team from Ai3 Architects, and CTA Construction, which built the school. Also, the project managers from Hill International. Superintendent Dede Galdston also credited the team from Hill for its hard work.

“Our two best friends, Tom Finnegan and Alana Forbes — the project managers — and Vivian (Varbedian) as well … Tom and Alana have been on this site probably every day —not just this site but all three of the sites — and have really become an important part of everything that we do,” Galdston said. “We are going to miss you. We are certainly happy to have our new school but we are sad to see you guys not be with us after this.”

Families explore the new library/media center at Lowell Elementary School. (Photo by Charlie Breitrose)

Sideris also thanked the taxpayers, the City Council, the School Committee and the School Building Committee. Galdston and her team for overseeing the building projects on top of the other responsibilities, and Phelan and her staff for not only helping design the school but for having to hold school in different places.

He gave a special thanks to the Archdiocese of Boston for allowing Watertown to lease the former St. Jude’s School for more than three years, “which allowed us to do this without a lot of disruptions.”

Lowell School’s cafeteria has been expanded as part of the renovation project. (Photo by Charlie Breitrose)

Galdston turned around and thanked Sideris, who she said played a critical role as the chair of the School Building Committee.

“One other thing about Chair Sideris, as he said, this is our third elementary, and we focused a lot on our first two and then when we came to the beginning of this we realized that we wanted to do things a little different than we originally planned,” Galdston said. “He really is a spearhead of a lot of what you will see here to make it seem like literally a brand new school. So, it looks a little alike on the outside but when you get inside you are going to see it is basically a brand new school. I think that is a lot of hard work done not just from the entire community but certainly led by Chairman Sideris.”

School officials cut the ribbon at the opening of the renovated Lowell Elementary School. (Photo by Charlie Breitrose)

Before the ceremony ended, Phelan read an acknowledgement that Lowell School is on Massachusetts and Pawtucket territory, and the home of the Pequosette.

“They have loved it for many years and we will continue to love it with them in the future,” she said.

A group of students crammed around to watch Phelan, Galdston, Sideris and others cut the ribbon to officially open the school. The second the ribbon fell, the students rushed through the doors and began to explore their new home.

A view looking at the Lowell learning commons from the second floor. (Photo by Charlie Breitrose)

2 thoughts on “Old School Has New Look, Public Gets First Look Inside Lowell Elementary After Renovation

  1. Dear Watertown,

    The opening of the Lowell Elementary School was one of the most joyous events that Bruce and I have ever witnessed and experienced. The excitement was palpable among the kids, their families, and the community at large. The building is awesome – the light pouring in, the elegant simplicity of the classrooms, and the unique variety and flexibility of gathering spaces both inside and outside of the building. This renovation is an amazing accomplishment. This is the third elementary school opening we have attended. Each school has its own personality with creative, flexible spaces to support the educational program needs of our kids as well as a community commitment to environmental sustainability.

    To build one new school is is a stellar event in any community. To build two new elementary schools, completely renovate a third elementary school, and now launch the building of a new high school demonstrates the tremendous amount of hard work (and dare I say a labor of love) being done by of our School Building Committee headed by City Council President, Mark Sideris. Ai3 has become part of our community. Their listening skills and flexibility led to creative visioning and guidance given the complexity of the building sites, ongoing community processes, and the need for design recalibrations in a turbulent economic and building supply chain climate. The detailed attention and management of the construction process by Hill International and the skilled construction teams (CTA construction, the Lowell and Brait Builders, the Cuniff and Hosmer) have resulted in three state-of-the-art elementary schools. And finally, the strong fiscal management by our former Town/City Manager Mike Driscoll and our Town/City Council, and the active, forward-thinking, highly engaged citizens who attended countless meetings over many, many years – have all contributed to the enormous success of our school building campaign.

    Our community faced many challenges: differences of opinion which led to deeper discussions, the unforeseen speed bump of Covid, changing economic circumstances, and more – yet we continued to think big. There still may be other surprises to come, yet we will prevail. We are looking forward to the opening of the new Watertown High School.
    Congratulations and thanks to everyone. Elodia & Bruce

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