Schools Looking for Town to Approve First Step in Rebuilding Stoughton High and the South School

The Schools will be drafting a statement of interest declaring their desire to rebuild Stoughton High School and the South School. But, the Board of Selectmen will have to approve the statement before it's submitted to the Mass. School Building Authority.

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.”

Fiscal Conservative October 20, 2011 at 10:35 AM
If the Town were able to sell these two building, some of the money could be used to replace the two schools. I'm sure that there are developers out there who could convert both buildings into 40-B housing units. There is plenty of space in both building for multiple units and plenty of parking for the tenets. I'm only kidding folks, please don't let this take place. Instead, tear the buildings down & use the same sites for the new schools. The youngest school building is now 40 yrs old (Gibbons). Time to invest in the future.
DJ October 20, 2011 at 01:45 PM
I would encourage the committee to take a good hard look at the success of the rebuilding project of Cambridge Ringe and Latin and the not as successful Dover Sherborn. Learn from their mistakes and successes. Rebuilding has been done repeatedly at about half the cost of new. There is no reason it can't at least be done with the High School. Maybe we should pursue the same architect that CR&L used. Also, get teacher feedback on design. Many design details can be really short sited, idealistic and not user friendly. Ironically, teachers and those in the trenches are usually the ones who best identify design flaws.
lowertaxes October 20, 2011 at 05:02 PM
It wasn't too long ago that I heard talk about the South School closing because they had a small student population, the smallest in town, and now they want to build a new one in it's place? Doesn't make much sense. We own the Jones school that is sitting mostly empty with the exception of the hallway of preschool classes and extended day that takes place before and after school. Maybe be should utilize what we have before spending money for what we don't.
DJ October 20, 2011 at 05:48 PM
I agree lower taxes. Haven't we been told the last few years that the Jones school was in the most need for repairs. We have been approving work for the roof, electrical and other big ticket items and as you say, the school remains unfilled. I too would like to know why it can't be totally utilized and given its proximity to the South School it seems a reasonable alternative. Can someone comment? The High School is another matter. It is desperate for restoration/rehab/rebuild or build new.
Jeannette October 21, 2011 at 12:08 PM
For those of you who say the Jones is empty, when was the last time you were at the Jones? It may not be at full capacity but it is far from sitting vacant. Not only is the town preschool housed at the Jones but Extended day has a full day program for children starting at around 15 months of age.
Sarah October 21, 2011 at 01:46 PM
I'm not familiar with the talk of closing the South due to low population, but it sounds like things have changed in the last few years. While the South may have fewer students, the other schools in town are quite full. The Dawe, for example, had to add classes due to the influx of many kindergarteners this year. And, the new apartment complexes on 138 and near BJs have the potential to add many more students to our town's schools. I don't think the system is in the position to be closing schools. Rather, if the town continues to approve building permits for large complexes, it may very well have to re-open the Jones to additional students, in addition to keeping the South open. As for the building projects, I just hope that plans are thoughtfully designed and responsibly financed. There are many examples of successful designs, which I hope the town will consult. Concord, for example, built a gorgeous new elementary school (Willard Elementary) which uses many innovative design strategies which have slashed the energy and utility costs dramatically, making it an excellent long term investment.
Christine Iacobucci October 23, 2011 at 05:43 PM
I completely agree with you (on the second part, of course). There are so many great things going on in our schools. There are many great teachers who will be retiring over the next few years. Bottom line is that to attract new, high quality teachers we need to offer the same (if not better) work conditions as other local school districts. Truly, how can we expect a new High School English teacher to choose to work in our A Building that is falling apart over another town's up to date classroom...
Christine Iacobucci October 23, 2011 at 05:48 PM
Lowertaxes, I am unsure that there is an empty classroom in the Jones School. With the integrated Preschool being tuition based and the fact that both Charms and Extended Day rent the space they occupy, I would venture that the building at least breaks even. It's the town's sole school that brings in any revenue.
Christine Iacobucci October 23, 2011 at 05:55 PM
It is my understanding that the class sizes, or at least the K classes from last year, at the South we at par with the other schools (about 20-24 students). I believe some of the smallest elementary class sizes are at the West (again based on K classes of last year). Like I said, I am not certain because this information is from informal conversations with other moms last year but it is worth a look so the entire community can have a true understanding of whether or not we should support these steps. At this point I must say I am pro-new schools for the town, though statistics would help my research-based mind.
lowertaxes October 23, 2011 at 06:35 PM
Christine, First of all, Charms is no longer at the Jones and hasn't been for 2 years. I was in the Jones very recently and there were more empty classes than full ones. As for the South having the same amount of kids in the classes, that is true, however, they only average 2 classrooms per grade while other schools average 3 or 4 classrooms per grade.
Christine Iacobucci October 23, 2011 at 07:26 PM
You are correct that Charms left for a at least a year if not two but they did return this year, though not with classrooms but administrative offices if I have heard correctly. They do have vans in the parking lot so I guess I cannot say definitively that there are no classrooms. I am curious when you last saw this building. I am referencing what I saw when I dropped off my son last Friday. Please understand that I do not mean that all rooms are classrooms per say, nor is the building 100% occupied but I would venture that it is about 90%. We must remember that there are other valuable town-wide facilities in these converted classrooms as well. Including Stoughton's Parent Information and Wellness Center that is available to all the parents of the town and not just Jones School attendees. Also, my daughter has had 24 in her class since last year at the Hansen and they only have 2 teachers per grade. You may be correct with the other schools because I have no idea, I can only attest to what I have seen, like I said before the rest of the information I have offered has been merely here-say based on conversation and do not claim it to be hard and fast in its accuracy.


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