AYER -- It's 8:30 a.m. on a Friday, and School Committee member Joyce Reischutz is ecstatic to see National Grid at the construction site at Ayer Shirley Regional High School.
She tells the workers she's glad they're there after stepping out of her car in the parking lot of Page-Hilltop Elementary School.
Yards away, massive mounds of dirt and a number of construction vehicles fill the area of the high school, which is in the midst of a $56 million renovation project.
Consigli Construction had been working to finish the 50,000-square-foot classroom addition -- and band and chorus rooms -- in time for students to use Tuesday, the first day of school.
The goal is just one of many in the phased project, guided over the years by School Committee members and a School Building Committee.
Last year, students were moved out of the classroom wing and into the old middle-school wing in preparation for construction. Phase 1 of the project began as soon as students' school year ended in June.
Students came back to new classrooms, band and chorus rooms Tuesday, while work on the rest of the school continues.
Students were happy as they got out of the buses, and received an overview of the new building, Superintendent of Schools Mary Malone said.
"I don't know who's more excited -- the teachers or the students," she said.
The timeline for building the new academic space was ambitious, she said, and groundbreaking for the classrooms was last September.
But people on the planning and building committees really put their efforts to get the project running and ready for the students in a short time, she said.
"It's really generated a lot of excitement, and we're able to provide the students from Ayer Shirley, really, a world-class education," she said.
The gym is scheduled for completion by Sept. 22, with the locker room and auditorium to follow in mid-October.
Trip Elmore, project manager, told the School Building Committee in August that the auditorium will also have the control-room wiring for the school's new TV studio. Until the wiring is up and live, the TV studio can't go up and go live, he said.
"There are a lot of interdependencies, and it's incredibly sensitive," he said. "You just hope that all things go as planned, because one big hiccup and we're in a different discussion."
But the progress since May is apparent at the high school, which will also feature a new cafeteria, library and medical area.
"There's all kinds of fun stuff here that's very interesting, and we'll see how it goes," said Reischutz, who is also on the School Building Committee. "But it's going very, very well for a renovation project."
The goal is to get the electricity hooked up and the new mechanical room running so the project can receive temporary occupancy permits that will allow students to be in the building.
Pat Kelly, a member of both committees, said students will use the old cafeteria for the first half of the school year. But when construction begins on the cafeteria in January, food will come from Page-Hilltop Elementary School. Officials are still working out where they want to seat students during lunch.
Kelly said the gym should be ready by basketball season. Volleyball -- the only other indoor sport -- might have to practice at the middle or elementary schools.
Walking around the busy construction site, Reischutz said the pavement of the parking lot is temporary and is composed of old, ground-up material.
Landscaping for the project, she says, should take place next summer.
Eventually, the old middle-school wing that housed students last year will be torn down. The tennis court will also be repaired, she said.
Elmore told the building committee that every inch of the building is under some sort of construction, and there is a lot to do.
"This team has worked very well together, collectively solving problems, not pointing fingers," he said. "It was a very aggressive schedule from day one, and now we're feeling it."
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