[Editor's note: The following opinion piece is from the offices of Sen. Katherine Clark and State Reps. Jason Lewis and James Dwyer.]
Next week Stoneham residents have a unique opportunity to support a partnership between the town and the state that will strengthen the community and its school system for years to come.
On April 3, during the municipal elections, we encourage you to vote in favor of the debt exclusion override that will fund Stoneham’s share of the construction cost to build a new middle school.
The has been in development for many years and represents the hard work and dedication of many members of the Stoneham community.
The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has worked closely with the town’s School Building Committee every step of the way. The MSBA will cover 57.5 percent of the project’s total estimated cost of $40 million. Stoneham’s taxpayers, through the debt exclusion override, will contribute the remaining $18 million (this amounts to $176 per year for 20 years for the average household). The property tax impact on each household will be lessened somewhat as the town will also be paying off the bonds from the earlier construction of Stoneham’s elementary schools.
This project will replace the current outdated and badly deteriorated middle school with an energy-efficient and fully accessible 21st century educational facility. The new school will provide flexible classroom space to support team teaching, state-of-the-art science labs, a media center, and new facilities for teaching art, music and other electives.
But, the benefits of this project go well beyond having a new facility. The building will be able to accommodate up to 775 students in grades 5-8. By moving grade 5 from each of the elementary schools to the new middle school, the town will be able to use the space in the remaining elementary schools much more efficiently and significantly reduce operating costs (with savings on staff, energy, and building maintenance). This, in turn, will enable the school district to invest in new technology across all the schools and restore programs like team teaching, art, music, and other electives that had to be scaled back or eliminated due to budget constraints over the past decade.
The bedrock of any community is its school system. By strengthening the quality of Stoneham’s schools and educational program, this project will help to attract new families to the town which, in turn, will raise property values and stimulate spending in local restaurants and businesses. The entire community, not just Stoneham’s students, stands to benefit.
In addition to state funding, the partnership with the MSBA provides the town with in-depth expertise in school building design and construction. The MSBA has been involved in hundreds of school building projects across the Commonwealth. The MSBA has an extremely rigorous process that must be followed at every stage of the project to ensure that the selected design is the most cost-effective at meeting the school district’s educational requirements and the construction is carried out as safely and efficiently as possible.
This partnership with the MSBA is a tremendous opportunity for Stoneham, but it is not an open-ended invitation. If the debt exclusion override is not approved on April 3, the MSBA will not move forward with the project. If a new proposal is put forward in the future, state funding may be unavailable, or substantially reduced. Most likely the Town would have to spend millions of dollars of its own money making band-aid repairs to the current middle school facility, and there would be no opportunity to realize the substantial cost savings and educational program improvements that this project promises.
If the override vote is successful that would certainly represent a major milestone for the project. But, most of the detailed planning for the design and construction will take place after April 3. This means there will be ample opportunity for parents of Central School students and other members of the community to work closely with the project team to ensure that every detail that could impact the safety and well-being of students while construction is taking place is carefully considered.
Shawmut Construction, the company that has been selected to manage the project, was chosen in large part because they have extensive experience with school buildings and other projects where the facility continued to be open and in use throughout the construction period.
Addressing our community’s educational priorities — including infrastructure needs — is a shared responsibility, and as Stoneham’s state legislative delegation we are proud to work with the town and all its residents to make this project a great success. On April 3, we hope you will vote in favor of an investment in Stoneham’s future.
— Sen. Katherine Clark, Reps. Jason Lewis and James Dwyer