The Stoughton Public Schools' Feasibility Committee urged the town to take the initial step in the process of replacing two aging schools in Stoughton— and the .
Following Tuesday's Board of Selectmen meeting, the town is inching closer to doing just that.
The Feasibility Committee told the Board of Selectmen Tuesday night that they recommend no additional money be spent on repairs for Stoughton High or for the South School, except in emergency situations. The Committee concluded that both buildings needed to be rebuilt.
The first step in the potential rebuilding process is to declare the desire to pursue building new schools by filing a statement of interest (SOI) with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA).
School Committee member Deborah Sovinee, who also sits on the Feasibility Committee, told the selectmen that the estimated cost of repairs for the South School would be the same, or even more than a new building, when factoring in the reimbursement rate from the MSBA, which could be as high as 60 percent.
Members of the Feasibility Committee told both the School Committee at their Oct. 11 meeting and the Selectmen at their Tuesday meeting that the aging condition of SHS and the South School makes it difficult for students to receive the type of education they deserve in the 21st Century.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marguerite Rizzi needs approval from both the School Committee and the Board of Selectmen in order to draft a statement of interest to be sent to the MSBA that would indicate Stoughton’s desire to rebuild SHS and the South School.
Dr. Rizzi explained that a SOI would allow the town to enter into a dialogue with the MSBA about rebuilding the two schools. She emphasized that a SOI does not commit the town to spending any money at this time.
“It’s the first step in a long process,” Dr. Rizzi told the selectmen. “There is no price tag attached, it just opens up the dialogue about replacing or refurbishing schools.”
Dr. Rizzi said the window to submit SOIs is only open until the end of this calendar year. In order to submit a SOI it requires majority support from both the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee.
At their Oct. 11 meeting, the School Committee voted unanimously (5-0) to allow Dr. Rizzi to draft separate SOIs for both schools and submit them to the MSBA. The Superintendent went before the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday looking for a similar vote.
However, members of the Board decided that they wanted to see a copy of the SOI before it was submitted to the MSBA.
“I don’t like voting on something I haven’t seen,” Selectman John Anzivino said. “To say I’m in favor of replacing schools that are falling apart is easy…[but] I would like to see the SOI drafted first, then vote.”
The Board voted unanimously (5-0) to have Dr. Rizzi draft a SOI and then submit it to the Board for approval, prior to it being submitted to the MSBA.
So while the School Department was looking for a simple approval to draft the statement and submit it to the MSBA without any further review from the town, the Schools will now appear before the Board with their SOI at a later date.
“This is a collaborative process between the two boards,” Sovinee wrote in a follow-up email to Stoughton Patch. “The plan is to come before the BOS as soon as possible (hopefully early November), since the deadline looms for submittal to the MSBA, and once the window of opportunity closes it may be a long time before it opens again.
“We want to be in a position to be ready to move forward and not lose out to other towns," she continued. "The money the state gives back for the project is our tax money and it should come back into our own community.”
Selectman Cynthia Walsh, a retired Stoughton Public Schools teacher, said she thought these potential projects would be too costly for the town.
“There’s not enough money to do what we need to do now,” she said, citing cuts in school programs and staff. “How are we going to come up with our half to build two buildings?”
Walsh added, “What makes a difference is not a shiny new building or brand new desk, what matters is the person at the front of the room…What we’re saying here is we can’t afford the people, how are we going to afford the room?”
But, the Feasibility Committee expressed the need to still begin the discussion to replace SHS and the South School.
The South School, which opened in 1958, was a “cheaper type of construction” than the other elementary schools in town, said School Committee chair Joyce Husseini, who also sits on the Schools’ Facilities Master Plan Committee.
As a result, she said the building has aged and there has been water intrusion. The Feasibility Committee cited issues with the school’s windows, roof and furnace. There are cracked floors and ceilings, ramps pitched at too steep a slope, and limited space. There are also ADA handicapped accessibility issues.
The High School, originally built in 1923, with additions in 1952, 1955 and 1965, “does not support 21st Century learning needs,” SHS Principal Matt Colantonio told selectmen. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), , credited the school’s maintenance upkeep, but said the condition of the building needs to be addressed.
The current heating system needs improvement, there is no handicapped accessibility to the fourth floor of A-building and the auditorium and gymnasium can’t fully accommodate the whole student body, among other issues.
The priority between the two projects has yet to be determined, Sovinee wrote in an email.
“[The] South School has been identified by the Facilities Master Plan Committee as having the most immediate need with the high school as a close second, while also serving more students,” she wrote.
“The South School may be in the worst shape in terms of the physical plant, [but] the high school has the problem of becoming educationally obsolete,” Husseini added in an email.
“Science labs in particular don't provide our students with the resources to prepare them for today's jobs,” she continued. “There are deficiencies in the classroom spaces and resources in all areas of the curriculum.”
Sovinee concurred, adding, “While the physical needs have been identified as more pressing at the South School, the high school has the problem of becoming educationally obsolete unless we act.”