By Lynne Hendricks
---- — NEWBURYPORT — NHS English Teacher Susie Galvin can’t keep her students away from the school library.
Ever since the space reopened this school year, boasting sleek new design features and furnishings, a professional art studio space, comfy armchair enclaves, a sprawling state-of-the-art Mac lab and designated quiet and not-so-quiet spaces to catch up on homework or chat with friends, her kids have been coming up with every excuse in the book to spend more time there.
But Galvin doesn’t mind. She and her colleagues are happy to offer their students a pass to head down to the renovated 21st century media center. They’re just a little surprised at the way kids are clamoring to hang out there, and thrilled that in this day and age the old school library model could be reborn into something so relevant to today’s teens.
“This space has become the hub of teaching and learning at Newburyport High School,” said Principal Mike Parent, speaking to nearly 200 people who turned out for the library’s official opening Monday night. “In financial worlds, the rate of return does not materialize for some time, but I can attest that the return on this investment has been instantaneous and dramatic.”
With a gift of $100,000 from the Institution for Savings, through the Newburyport Education Foundation, a gift of $45,000 from the Mary Alice Arakalian Foundation for furnishings and an $8,000 gift from the Class of 1953 that puts an array of iPads at students’ fingertips, the library underwent a creative redesign last summer.
Under the direction of new librarian Lynn Cote, whose vision and energy drove the fundraising effort, floor to ceiling book stacks were halved or cleared out to create one big open space, and dry wall went in to construct differentiated learning and studying spaces like the soundproof Mac Lab, collaborative classroom area, the high top table café and sitting stations that inspire small groups to study and brainstorm within the stacks.
The work has gone on throughout the year, with donations from small businesses like Newburyport Lighting Company, the Brass Lyon and Partridge in a Bear Tree among others coming in throughout even as kids were streaming into the facility. And this January, it was all finally completed.
On Monday night, when a snowstorm forced the cancellation of adult education classes at the high school, teachers, students, parents and community members braved the weather and turned out to celebrate the ribbon cutting of the new space, anointed the Institution for Savings Media Center.
In the newly designed art studio, with its slate blue walls and low ambient lighting, freshman Anna Moore was showing off a sophisticated gargoyle sculpture she created in Mrs. Rakoski’s art class. Surrounded by mounted frames showcasing an array of paintings and graphic designs, with guests milling about as if attending a New York opening, Moore talked about how her growing interest in art prompted her to switch electives this semester to pursue it further.
“It’s really nice we’re able to show off the artwork of all the students,” said Moore, standing beside a display case where hers and other students work is showcased. “It’s more fun when you can do something with (your art).”
As one of three students who entertained guests of the grand opening with a Poetry Slam Monday night, senior Blake Quintal said following the performance that the new library is a place that inspires him.
“I really like the cubby set-up,” said Blake Quintal. “It allows you to be in your own little world. I’ve sat in the cubby and written poems. Mrs. Cote lets us do that — as long as it’s creative, she lets us do it.”
Other students were congregating in the Mac Lab, their voices loud but muted by the sound-proofed glass that allows classes and students to speak freely but be a part of it all. And still another group — members of the NHS Choir and Jazz Band — were gathered in the café, readying themselves to sing for guests later on in the evening.
School Committee members Cheryl Sweeney, Dan Koen and Bruce Menin were enjoying the whole scene.
“This is just a wonderful space,” said Sweeney. “I hear from the kids that it’s used constantly throughout the day. It’s just amazing to see this place come alive.”
Speaking for those who made it all possible, NEF President Jeff Gray extended special thanks to the donors who gave generously, inviting Institution for Savings President Michael Jones and Mary Alice Arakelian Foundation President Mark Welch to speak to the crowd.
Jones told them the bank was proud to contribute to the library, which he knows will contribute to the success, confidence and self-esteem of students. And Welch, who explained that Mary Alice Arakelian was a graduate of NHS Class of 1912, said the former Fowle’s owner would have been overjoyed to see her alma mater so endowed.
“There’s nothing we’re prouder of than the money we give to this high school,” he said.