BILLERICA -- The massive crane swoops down and grabs the final steel beam covered in signatures -- along with an American flag and Christmas tree attached to its top.

Officials grin from ear to ear, looking up at another milestone for the $176 million high-school project.

Residents flash a smile, proud of getting a step closer to finishing one of the most important projects in Billerica's history.

And students from the Class of 2027 beam, seeing the construction of their future home of 30-plus hours a week.

Residents, students, officials and construction workers gathered for the topping off ceremony of the new Billerica Memorial High School on Wednesday. The school, located on the existing site, is set to open in 2019.

"I can't wait to be back at the future home of the Indians," said Jack McCarthy, executive director of the Massachusetts School Building Authority, moments before construction workers put up the final beam.

Town Manager John Curran pointed to the amount of collaboration, communication and teamwork for this project.

"This obviously is a great day for the town of Billerica," he said.

State Rep. Marc Lombardo graduated from the high school in 2000. Back then, he thought the building needed to be replaced, he said at the ceremony on Wednesday.

"It's great to see the progress here," Lombardo said.

"You can really see the investments we're making as a community for our children," he added.


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Selectmen Chairman Andrew Deslaurier's daughter attends Hajjar Elementary School, where more than 12 native languages are spoken. While residents in town share different pasts, everyone -- including those students who speak various languages -- shares this building, he said.

"The promise has been made to them," Deslaurier said. "No matter where they came from, they are part of Billerica now, and this is their inheritance to invest in themselves and we invest in them."

Sen. Cindy Friedman, of Arlington, was the late Sen. Ken Donnelly's chief of staff when they worked to secure funding for this project. She said the new school will provide students with the most up-to-date technology, preparing them for higher education and the workforce.

"We must continue to give our students all the support they need to excel, and I know that Billerica is committed to doing this," Friedman said.

Superintendent of Schools Tim Piwowar was the emcee for the ceremony.

"This is an amazing, amazing day," he said.

In June, construction workers erected the first steel beams for the new high school.

The goal has been to get the building weather-tight before winter. Trucks delivered materials five to six days per week throughout the summer, feeding the on-site steel progress.

The groundbreaking of the new school was in March.

Last year, residents voted overwhelmingly to support the debt exclusion for the new school.

The new school designed for 1,610 students will cover grades 8-12 and the district's preschool program.

Last year, the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) approved its $72 million share for the new school. Billerica's share is about $100 million after reimbursement from the state. The average Billerica homeowner -- with a house valued at $320,400 last year -- will pay an estimated additional $200 a year for the high-school construction cost for about three decades.

Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.