Town Boards Unanimous In Support of New Elementary School Project; Voters Have Their Say On Saturday (VIDEO)
Apr 06, 2019 05:06AM
● By Bill Gilman
The new facility would serve roughly 790 students in Grades 2-4 and would replace the North Street and Trahan Schools. Both those facilities, well over 50 years old, are sorely outdated and are each in need of significant repairs and renovations.
If voters approve the project on Saturday, the project would proceed to the Annual Town Meeting on May 6, where it would need a two-thirds majority for final approval.
The proposed 140,000 square-foot facility, which would be built adjacent to the Ryan School, on the current site of venerable Doucette Field, has an estimated price tag of $98.5 million. Of that total, the Massachusetts School Building Authority has approved $31,190,956 in reimbursement, leaving Tewksbury to pick up the remaining estimated costs of $65.7 million. It's being designed by CBRE/Heery and overseen by Project Director Peter Collins, the same firm and same project director behind the new Tewksbury High School.
"Upon completion, this project will provide a new 21st century learning environment for students in Tewksbury," said State Treasurer Deb Goldberg . "Our goal is to create the best space to deliver the District’s educational commitments and goals."
The proposed school would feature larger classrooms, new media centers and project spaces that conform to state guidelines. There will also be dedicated spaces for art, music and special education programs, something that doesn't presently exist in Tewksbury's four elementary schools.
The plans include a combined cafeteria/performing arts, drama space, as well as a separate gymnasium with divisible basketball courts. The gym would be available for use by any of the district's schools, as well as community groups.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: An animated video tour of the proposed school project can be seen below. In addition, a PDF of the Building Committee's PowerPoint presentation can be seen and downloaded by clicking the PDF link above.)
School Committee member Dennis Francis, who chairs the Elementary School Building Committee, said there will never be a better time to get the new school built. He said due to increased costs for raw materials, building the new elementary school is significantly more expensive than building the new high school, less than a decade ago. And due to decreases in MSBA reimbursement, Tewksbury's share of this project is considerably higher than it was for the high school. And all those costs will just continue to rise.
Tewksbury's major town boards and committees have come out strongly in favor of the project, including the School Committee and Board of Selectmen, both of which provided a unanimous endorsement.
"We are at a milestone one in this project that is going to take us into the next phase," said Selectman Anne Marie Stronach, a member of the Elementary School Building Committee. "At the end of the day you can’t learn when there is wind blowing through and rain during in. Our students deserve a suitable educational space."
"We worked hard as a community, and that literally means the entire community, to vastly improve our financial condition," said Selectman Todd Johnson. "And the reason, in part, to do that was to be able to invest (financially) in our community. We have earned the right, in my opinion, to go out and get the most favorable terms available at this time. Our bond rating has improved tremendously. This is not just an education issue but an economic development issue, in regarding to investing in our community."
"I absolutely support moving forward with this project," said Jayne Wellman-Miller, a former member of the School Committee, present Town Moderator and a candidate for the Board of Selectmen. "The cost to do this isn't going to be going down in the future and fixing the (schools) isn't an option. We need to do this now."
The site for the new school was selected after numerous community "brainstorming" sessions and months of research by the Elementary School Building Committee. The new school will join with the Ryan School to create an educational campus serving grades 2-6.
Doucette Field would also be torn down and rebuilt, along with the field house, as part of the educational campus, on a parcel behind both schools. A new softball field will also be added.
While Doucette Field has a treasured place in the history of Tewksbury High athletics, the field has fallen into disrepair and certain sections of the bleachers had to be closed off due to safety concerns. Doucette "2.0" will include a turf field, which will allow it to be used by multiple Tewksbury High teams, as well as community sports programs.
Over the several months leading up to Saturday's vote, the Elementary School held multiple community information sessions to answer questions and listen to concerns from residents.
Among the most common questions was what the impact would be on the tax bill of the average Tewksbury homeowner. According to Town Manager Richard Montuori, based on an average home value of $404,963, the project should result in an average property tax increase of roughly $349 per year over the 20-year life of the bond. It would be higher in the first year but then drop significantly later in the term.
Residents have also openly wondered if there was a need to replace Doucette Field, given that an artificial turf field marked for football was already built at the new high school and that the field construction is not included in what the state considers "reimbursable expenses."
Supporters argue that there remains a shortage of multi-purpose field space in Tewksbury and point to the fact that some of the high school teams still have to use field space down on Livingston Street (which have no seating or permanent bathroom facilities) for games.
But the biggest and most frequent question asked of the committee is why the town isn't just repairing and renovating the existing elementary schools.
Francis said the answer is simple -- money. It would cost more that $20 million just to get one of the schools, the Trahan, up to code. And that doesn't address the shortages of classroom space and the outdated facilities.
"The alternative to getting the new school approved is not good," said Francis. "The cost of getting the two schools up to code, the North Street and the Trahan, just up to code, would be about $44 million with no help at all (coming) from the state. Doucette Field is basically condemned, so something has to be done with Doucette Field and the cost of fixing that up would be about $7-8 million."
Francis said the Center School building is also in major disrepair and that rehabbing the building is cost prohibitive.
Member of the Elementary School Building Committee: