Walking the halls of MHS, the occasional glimpse into the forbidden corners of the school excites curiosity over the building’s untold story. A series of interviews and expeditions with the accommodating custodial staff revealed insights into the campus’s non-intuitive orientation and the places students never see.
In its 88-year history, the MHS building has undergone many additions. The Palmer unit was constructed in 1925 and renovated in 1956 and 1964. Post was built in 1930 to serve as the middle school, and was renovated in 1959, 1968 and 2005. When Hommocks was opened in 1968, the science wing was constructed and the two high school buildings were united with a raised hallway. The byproduct of this transformation is that most facilities have a double in the other building, as with the school’s two gyms, two auditoriums and two parking circles.
Rather than keep two cafeterias, the one in Palmer, where the fitness center currently is located, was abandoned. This consolidated lunchtime to the prior middle school’s cafeteria, in the space now hosting Apple. In 2005, the library, the tiered classroom and the overpass were erected. The former library became our current cafe, and the former cafeteria was reworked to accommodate Apple classrooms. The original wall paintings in those rooms depicting scenes from colonial times were preserved, and the red lunchroom floor tiles are still beneath the new flooring.
The halls of MHS are dotted with closets storing cleaning equipment and maintenance supplies. Many used to be classrooms but were split by division walls, and as a result still feature blackboards. One closet in Post was previously an elevator shaft, so the ceiling is several stories high and operation buttons are still mounted on the wall outside. Opposite the Palmer computer lab is a garage housing outdoor machinery such as snow blowers and a truck.
The basement of the Palmer building has a maintenance shop, various hallways lined with storage rooms and the boiler room. The boiler room door, marked with a red sign, leads to a flight of stairs down into a massive chamber holding four cylindrical tanks, each with a diameter of roughly 10 feet. The space also connects to a deeper work room.
On the third floor of Post, a black trapdoor on the ceiling opens to extend a folding ladder. It leads up to a sizable attic, the space inside the slanted base for the cupola, the white tower above post which serves as the district’s logo. Three of the rooms’ walls are lined with openings to the low space between the inner and outer roof, fading into darkness after a few feet. On each end, a short door leads out to the roof. On one side, a gap in the bricks allows access to the mechanism of the school’s front clock, which is timed to light up at night. In the center of the room, ladders mounted on a framework of girders lead up into a higher landing with yet another ladder into the cupola itself. Before it was refitted with more attractive but less transparent plastic windows a few years ago, the tower offered a view all the way to the city.
On either side of the McClain auditorium, foyers lead to the seating area’s side entrances. Each of these has another door into what used to be hallways running the length of the auditorium to shorten students’ route across the building. However, these have been transformed into storage rooms for performance props as well as the business office’s files.
Underneath the Post building there is a vast network of interconnected passageways which hold piping, internet cables and air ducts. The school plumber and janitors routinely fix clogged pipes and other broken machinery there. Near the entrance, a few of the corridors store large equipment such as cable reel rollers. However, the majority of the space is vacant. Few parts are lit at all, and even then, only dimly. The floor is dirt and the walls are stone, and in some areas the ceiling is too low to walk. According to one staff member, a homeless man was once found living down there and had to move.
This basement, it is important to note, is not MHS’ rumored bomb shelter. If that complex exists, it is deeper below the ground and has not been visited in years.
Because of its various renovations, MHS has many hidden places, and it is clear that there are even more that have not yet been discovered.
By James Anderson
Photos courtesy of James Anderson