When former Principal Marianne Kopaczynski started working at the William E. Carter School in the 1970s, she was told not to unpack supplies from her car because the students and staff moved buildings so much.

Though the school serves students with complex learning needs and disabilities, it has been operating in a building where wheelchair users cannot pass through all the doorways and where navigating bathrooms can be tricky. So on Tuesday, city officials broke ground on a new building.

The school currently serves 25 students, who range from age 12 to 22. Officials expect that number to grow to 60 with the new building scheduled to open for the 2024-2025 school year. The new building will increase the number of classrooms from five to 12, establish an early childhood program and include a therapeutic pool and sensory garden, which will provide forms of therapy for disabled children.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu emphasized how the new building fits within her Green New Deal, which includes $2 billion to upgrade Boston Public Schools district-wide over the next decade.

“No one who comes can leave with any feeling except just being awed and inspired by the love, the work, the energy and the brilliance of our young people in this building, and the educators who are pouring their whole hearts and selves into ensuring that we're giving them every opportunity,” Wu said at the groundbreaking ceremony. “But if you look up from the young people and the educators into the building, then it tells a very different story.”

The new facility, which will cost $92 million, will look very different from when the school got its start.

“We were at Boston State Hospital in an abandoned building with grates on the windows and no equipment,” Kopaczynski said, recalling the school in the 1970s. “We had to bring in our own paper products and scavenge for even a table or chairs.”

Until construction is completed, a portion of Lila Frederick School will temporarily host students and teachers from Carter.

A young woman stands in front of a sign reading "Welcome to Carter."
Kimberly Kulasekaran, who has worked at Carter for 13 years, said she got emotional packing up her classroom for the construction.

Kimberly Kulasekaran, who has worked at the Carter school for 13 years, said packing up her classroom was emotional, after many attempts to secure backing for the project.

“We’ve submitted those extreme home makeovers for schools, we've done applications, letters, we've reached out to community members, we've tried everything,” she said. “Now that we're actually digging dirt here today, it's almost unbelievable.”

With increased resources geared toward students with complex needs, Kulasekaran said the groundbreaking will bring more than just a new building. “It's going to be a ripple effect not only for the facilities, but for the education and the curriculum that our students need, deserve and require in order to really reach their full potential,” she said.

At the ceremony, Carter Principal Mark O’Connor spoke directly to the students in attendance. “This is what you deserve and more,” he said. “I can't wait to see what this building does so that you can blow our existing expectations out of the water and truly feel the value that your community places on you as individuals, but also as learners.”