A $10,000 Community Foundation grant puts Athol students in the lead.

By GREG VINE For the Athol Daily News

ATHOL—As renovation work on the former Riverbend School continues, Athol students are adding an artistic flair of their own.

Over the past several days, students from Athol-Royalston Middle School worked with volunteers from NewVue Communities to paint plywood panels with images of the town. Others created positive symbols, such as holding hands, flowers, or colorful dragonflies. These works of art will be installed in the building’s middle row of windows in September by the Fire Department and Facilities Director Brian Bruso. A celebration to unveil the artwork is planned for early October.

Funding for the project came from a $10,000 grant from the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts, and the work is being overseen by area artist Amber Haney.

NewVue’s Director of Development and Communications Kerry Flathers said the idea came about when Town Manager Shaun Suhoski visited NewVue’s Fitchburg offices. She said he noticed artwork being installed in the windows of the city’s former high school, which is being renovated into the Fitchburg Arts Community Center.

Flathers said that the Riverbend School has broken windows and graffiti sprayed on its walls. She hopes that as word gets out that the paintings to be installed at Riverbend are created by local artists, it may deter further damage.

“There’s also thinking that when people drive by and see those big, beautiful pieces of artwork on the building, it’s a message to people that this building has a future,” Flathers said. “It’s not just an empty building that we’re all going to watch getting more and more ‘tired.’ We’re going to invest in it with this artwork and demonstrate that it has a beautiful future.”

The Riverbend and neighboring former Bigelow School are slated to be renovated into a 53-unit affordable housing facility. The nearly $30 million project, overseen by NewVue, includes construction of a new building, linking the two former schools, which will provide senior housing. Much of the funding is expected to come in the form of state and federal grants and tax credits.

Suhoski, who helped with the painting, said the project is an exciting one.

“We are extremely pleased to bring some life to this façade,” said Suhoski, “even as we await future redevelopment and improvements on the site.”

Flathers met with the students and talked about Athol, the project and their thoughts on it. They were asked what comes to mind when they think of Athol and what about the community makes them proud.

“Well, these students are really proud of their town,” she said. “They spoke so well about it being the ‘Tool Townm,’ to the River Rat Race, to their logo. We got ideas from them because we wanted them to be involved in the design.”