LYNN — The hammers have fallen silent, the paint is dry and, beginning next Monday, 480 Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) students start a new school year in a new school.
With its big windows flooding classrooms with sunlight and inspirational sayings painted in giant letters on hallway walls, the KIPP Academy Lynn Collegiate on Wheeler Street is an example of an old building getting a new lease on life.
Private donors and financing through Citizens Bank provided KIPP with $30 million to renovate the J.B. Blood building starting in March 2018. W.T. Rich, a Newton firm that built an annex onto KIPP’s Highlands elementary school, undertook the renovation project even as students attended classes in the Blood building.
“We specialize in occupied construction,” said Rich Assistant Supervisor Tony Catenacci.
Construction workers removed interior walls, added new walls, and ripped out industrial machinery and construction dating back to the building’s former life as a warehouse and bakery for a grocery store chain.
Catenacci said the building’s exterior demanded a complete renovation requiring workers to train in high-scaffold construction. They sanded and pointed the brick and concrete exterior walls.
“It was in really rough shape. You could tell there was a lot of wear and tear,” he said.
The refurbished first floor features big windows and a high ceiling with big, halo-like light fixtures. Arts classes, a dance studio and cafeteria are located on the first floor with “knowledge is power” painted on wall with letters taller than most of the students who will attend the school.
The school’s second floor is divided into science laboratories and 9th and 10th grade classrooms with 10th and 11th grade classrooms on the third floor and 11th and 12 grade classes on the top floor with its panoramic Boston skyline and ocean views.
True to its name, the Academy puts a priority on college preparation. Every student will take a year and a half of college-oriented coursework and seminars on how to pick a college and pay for a college education.
The school library is a central space on the second floor where students can meet and work in groups. Other common areas are spread throughout the building, and W.T. Rich upgraded the fire and security alarm systems.
“Now it’s top of the line,” said Catenacci.
KIPP Director of School Operations Zach Trotsky said 95 percent of Academy students are Lynn residents. He said many of the students live in neighborhoods ringing downtown and participate in programs, like Raw Art Works, located downtown.
“We are right in the center of our community,” said Laurie Kennedy, KIPP senior development director.
Kennedy and Trotsky envision the Academy sharing resources with other downtown schools, including North Shore Community College, Lynn Vocational Technical Institute and St. Mary’s High School. But KIPP has a clear goal for its new school.
“We want to be the place in the Commonwealth that educates kids the best,” Kennedy said.
Founded in 2004 with space leased in Holy Family Church, KIPP gradually added new grades and built a 1,000-plus student school in the Highlands. Kindergarten through 8th grade students start classes this month in the Highlands school. Collegiate Academy students celebrate their new school with a ribbon cutting scheduled for Sept. 13.
The Blood building renovation’s completion finally gives students who shuttled between the Highlands and downtown for classes and filed into school next to construction scaffolding a new place of their own to learn.
“The kids deserve it,” said Kennedy.