ABOUT TOWN: Town Meeting Gives Thumbs Up to Stoughton High Feasibility Study
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MILLION DOLLAR SCHOOL FEASIBILITY STUDY PASSED: School Committee member Deborah Sovinee was beaming as members left Stoughton High May 16 from Town Meeting Night Four, with the article for a Feasibility Study for Stoughton High School passing by an overwhelming margin.
Sovinee had really taken the lead on trying to do something about the deteriorating condition of Stoughton High School. After the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) had put Stoughton High on "Warning Notice" status due, in part, to the many deficiencies in the physical plant, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marguerite Rizzi, and the School Committee were determined to renovate or replace the high school.
It's a VERY long road until the day when a new school is built, or a major renovation project will be completed. First, the Statement of Interest had to be written and submitted to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA).
The next big step was Wednesday night. An article to fund a feasibility study - a required component to getting any funding from the MSBA - was before Town Meeting, at an estimated cost of $1 million.
The study won't happen, however, until Stoughton's application is accepted by the MSBA.
Sovinee spent many hours putting together a PowerPoint presentation for TM members to better understand the situation at the school. And, at the suggestion of Stephanie Carrara, a town employee and Town Meeting member, tours of the building were arranged. Carrara, who graduated thirty years ago from SHS, was amazed how bad the building had gotten. These "Tours of Terror" helped to convince those who were unfamiliar with the problems just how bad they were.
Sovinee explained to members that the Feasibility Study was a required step in the school building process. She emphasized that the article was not a request for a new school. "It's to look at the options for repair, replacement or renovation."
Doug Zorn, who serves on the Feasibility Committee for School Buildings, said that Stoughton High was "in dire need of repair." He outlined $21 million of repairs that would have to be completed in the next five years. "We can't do anything without a feasibility study," he added. (We could, of course, but we'd have to pay for all of it. With this feasibility study, if the town is invited into the MSBA process, we'd get at least 56.6% reimbursement, and probably more.)
Jenna Kelly, a 2008 Stoughton High grad who now attends Boston University, gave an impassioned speech supporting the article. She said she was adequately prepared for life after high school and enjoyed her time at SHS but that the condition of the building needed to be addressed.
She said the A-building (the oldest wing of the school) "feels like a relic from prehistoric times" and there were "zero redeeming qualities for the outdated high school science facilities" in the D and E buildings.
"It's shocking that the school has remained open with such severe limitations," she said, citing the lack of handicapped access to the fourth floor of A-building.
She said modern school facilities motivate students: "Students who have access to the best want to do their best."
Gretchen Barron, a design professional and Stoughton mom, reminded members of the NEASC evaluation report, which put Stoughton on "warning" and wrote, "The facility limits the delivery of a high quality education." The NEASC also required Stoughton to file a "Special Progress Report" by August 1, 2012. She added, "There has been no new school construction in Stoughton for over 40 years."
Selectmen Robert O'Regan supported the article, saying, "I'm tired of having us do things when we are on a watch list, warning list, in danger of losing accreditation." He said there were "moral, practical, social and economic reasons to do this."
Town Meeting member John Morton said, "We'd be insane not to try to qualify for the kind of return we'd get on this money," citing the grants availabe if Stoughton is welcomed into the MSBA pipeline. Reimbursements could be upwards of 56.6 percent.
"For repairs, we could get a minimum of twelve million dollars [in reimbursements], based on the estimates we heard," he said. "Conversely, a new school would probably net us 36 million dollars [in reimbursements]. That's a great return on investment. You don't save money by doing a project wrong, as we found on our newest fire station and our police station. This is an investment for this town, with a substantial return on that investment."
Not everyone was in favor of the million dollar expenditure. Town Meeting and FinCom member Ed DeFelice added, "All the things I saw on the tour were repairable, although he did note the "A Building should be donated to the Smithsonian."
He felt that town was "putting the cart before the horse."
DeFelice said "The MSBA website clearly warns that towns shouldn't pass feasibility studies unless they are invited into the grant program. It's entirely at our risk. We may get no reimbursement at all."
School Committee member (and Town Meeting member) Dr. Erdem Ural also spoke against the article. He said, "I'm going to vote against this article mainly because it is premature...The MSBA is voting in July on invitations into their program. We should wait and take this up at next year's Annual Town Meeting, if we're accepted."
He said NEASC did not just talk about the condition of the building, but also cited "great deficiencies in education."
Holly Boykin, Finance Committee Chair and Town Meeting member, said that Diane Sullivan, a project manager for the MSBA, told her that because of Town Meeting schedules it is acceptable for communities to pass a Feasibility Study article before being accepted into the MSBA's pipeline.
Selectman John Anzivino thought that Stoughton High School should have been replaced back when his son graduated in 1997. "This is a prudent investment. I'm strongly in favor of it."
Town Meeting member Joe Scardino, Chairman of the Planning Board, said that they needed to move positively on the article. "We're at the 11th hour. We have to respond to the accreditation issue by August. By voting this article down, you'd be punishing students."
Sovinee was smiling because the article passed 130-6. She said she will be making calls to the MSBA and the state legislature informing them of Stoughton's support for the article.
After the meeting Sovinee said, "We need our representatives to really step up for the town."
The Town Meeting members certainly did!
Town Meeting also approved a $20,000 donation from the Community Preservation Committee to the South Shore Habitat for Humanity toward the costs of their newest home on Commercial Street.
They also approved the CPC's Distribution and Budget.
Next Town Meeting--Night Five--is Monday, May 21 at 7:30 p.m. at Stoughton High Auditorium. Next up: The Veterans Agent and Assessors office talk about new proposals to aid veterans and the elderly with their tax burdens.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: to Stoughton native Lisa Spigel Resca, who now lives in Easton. She is a teacher and a new mom!
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY: Happy 30th Anniversary to Rick and Arleen Smith, neighbors of mine in Stoughton.