New Science Wing Gives Students Competitive Edge

Apr 10, 2015

Dr. Sherri Svedine-Gaskalka, who teaches chemistry at Springfield Central High School, in one of the 12 new labs in the 30,000 square foot science wing that opened earlier this year.
Credit WAMC

Massachusetts is making a financial commitment to equip the state’s public schools with state-of-the-art science labs. The initiative comes as schools stress a curriculum heavy with science, technology, engineering and math, which is collectively called STEM.

A new three-story science wing with 12 new laboratories, multi-purpose preparation rooms, cutting-edge classrooms, and a greenhouse was dedicated Thursday at Springfield Central High School. The new wing cost $32 million. The Massachusetts School Building Authority covered 80 percent of the cost, or $25.6 million.

Massachusetts Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, who chairs the state’s school building authority, joined local officials in Springfield Thursday to celebrate the project. She said modern science labs like those at Central are critical to closing skills gaps and sustaining the state’s economic growth.

"Massachusetts is known for its brains. That is where the growth has been and where it will continue to be," said Goldberg.

The school building authority was created a decade ago to, in part, rein in the costs of local school building projects. The authority demanded cost effective designs before new schools could qualify for state funding. 

Also, rather than finance only new buildings, the authority began paying for renovations and repairs to schools.  It now provides grants to modernize science labs.  Goldberg, who has been state treasurer for just three months, said she hopes to find ways to do more to help school districts improve their facilities.

"This is a terrific moment when you see the fruition of a lot of teamwork, and we know what it will mean for the kids and that is what I care so deeply about," she said.

Massachusetts Treasurer Deborah Goldberg tours the greenhouse in the Springfield Central High science wing with principal Thaddeus Tokarz.
Credit WAMC

School building authority executive director Jack McCarthy said just about every school renovation project that gets approved now includes new science labs.

Springfield Central High was built in 1986.  Officials determined the science labs and classrooms required more space to accommodate modern equipment and technology, so the decision was made to build a 30,000 square foot addition.

The new science wing opened in January.  Sherri Svedine-Gaskalka, who teaches chemistry, said her students are excited with the new facilities, but focused on their tasks.

"The benefit here really is the adjustment in space. If you present students with lab opportunities and give them the background to understand and analyze they will learn. This setting is making it easier to do those traditional tasks," she said.

Springfield school superintendent Dan Warwick said Central High is now a STEM magnet school with about 40 percent of students enrolled in advanced placement courses.

" Central's achievement levels, increase in graduation rates, increase in achievement, decrease in the dropout rate are notable for an urban school with 2,000 students," he said.

The school building authority has funded $300 million in construction projects in Springfield in the last four years including the building of a new vocational technical high school, a new elementary school, and the complete renovation of a middle school.

The local school department is asking for state aid for 11 projects including replacing two elementary schools that were built in the 1890s.