QUINCY -- Walk into the South/West entrance at Baldwin Intermediate School, and everything seems much the same for the start of the 2017-18 school year this week.
Take a closer look, and the differences are easy to spot.
"Because Baldwin is being occupied while construction work is going on, the first thing we had to do was make sure all the students and all the staff are going to be safe," said Jacques Reynolds with Architechnics and part of the design team for the Baldwin site project. "We've done all that we can to try to foresee any potential problems. Virtually all the dollars spent to this point are to make this building safe for students for this fall."
The first round of asbestos removal and demolition work was done over the summer -- when students weren't in the building -- and the bulk of "transitional work" wrapped up on Friday.
That involved work on the fire alarm, steam cross piping, water cross connections, temporary stormwater drainage, fencing and other measures to keep Baldwin South and West operating safely this coming school year.
Temporary barricades block hallways that led into Baldwin North. A drywall barrier blocks what was the familiar Round Room. Fencing with a fabric screen blocks the view of the construction site.
Windows were boarded up, doors have been screwed shut from the outside to prevent access and "what used to be known as the mall is completely off limits to students, staff and the general public. That's where all the construction activity is going on," Reynolds said. "The building is ready for students to come back to school."
As Baldwin heads into its last lap as a school building, students and staff will be doing their best to "make it count."
"Even if you have one year, make the most of every second of every day," Baldwin South Principal Cindy Crow said. "Our goal was to make sure we kept business as usual as much as we could for kids. We still are educating 1,000 kids at Baldwin this year. They should have the same opportunities the previous 1,000 had and the next 1,000 will have."
Planning to make that happen began last school year as administrators looked at a host of instructional and physical challenges of education alongside a construction project.
"We've put a lot of time and involved a lot of individuals in trying to create safe and most efficient plan given the resources," Crow said. "That being said, we've never had to create a plan around a construction zone before, so I guess I would ask for patience and flexibility and proactive communication. If people see a problem we need to solve, if they could in a proactive let us know as soon as possible, our goal is to be very vigilant, observant and revise as we go along."
Both sections at Baldwin will have roughly 500 students, but planning looked at "how do we take three schools and combine them into two, moving as few people as possible," Baldwin West Principal Melanie Schrand said.
To maintain learning communities and relationships, fourth-graders from North shifted to South for fifth grade, so they will still see each other at lunch and recess and still see familiar staff members. To even out the student population, West will have more fourth-graders while South has more fifth-graders.
Losing the Round Room where fourth-graders ate lunch will require moving back to four lunch periods in the school day, and that led to completely revising the building's master schedule.
"Every day we're proud of and impressed by the magic that happens on the part of staff and students, and we've never been more proud. The pace has picked up to get this done in time for school to start, and you didn't hear grumbling and complaining," Crow said.
Completing the first phase of asbestos work and demolition -- of the two-story space of Baldwin North and the one-story space of Baldwin East -- was key to having the new K-5 school ready to open in fall 2019. Remaining asbestos work and demolition will be done in summer 2018.
The remaining portions of the building to demolish, all of West and a portion of South, "is still a pretty good-sized building to take down but all single story. They've done two-thirds of the demolition, maybe three-fourths," Reynolds said.
"What resonated through the whole transition was we have to do what's best for kids," Crow said. "Even if it's just one year, even if it creates more time and effort on our part."
Events for fourth- and fifth-grade students this week at Baldwin Intermediate School will help answer questions and get students, along with their parents, ready for the start of school.
Fourth-grade orientation sessions will be held 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. and 10 to 11 a.m. Monday in Baldwin West and noon to 1 p.m. Monday in Baldwin South.
Sessions are teacher specific, and parents are students are assigned to a specific time.
Fifth-grade Meet the Teacher night will take place 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
"It's a good opportunity for kids to see where their classroom is at, meet their teacher and drop off their supplies so they don't have so much to carry that first day on the bus," Baldwin West Principal Melanie Schrand said.