Yesterday on Stoneham Patch, School Building Committee chairperson Jeanne Craigie joined us for our first Cover It Live chat, fielding questions related to the estimated $40 million . You can ; below are some of the highlights from the question-and-answer session:
School Swing Space
Ralph Lauretano: Who decided to exclude the cost of swing space from the final cost estimates?
Craigie: Essentially the Mass Building Committee helped make that decision, since that cost is not covered by any reimbursement, the Town of Stoneham would have had to cover the entire cost on our own tax dollar. The Committee worked with a budget range that would be affordable and in the best interest of the entire community!
Ralph Lauretano: When asking for nearly twenty million dollars, why is another million or so for swing space prohibitive, when it would ensure the safety and quality of education for our kids?
Craigie: Modular teaching pods are not in children or staff's best interest and the Town does not have that amount of money to support a plan of that magnitude.We have no buildings offline that meet standard Public School codes.
Gina: Why not use the proceeds from the North and East Schools to pay for swing space?
Craigie: The SC has given back to the Town and that process is just being completed. In May we will turn back the to the Town. That is one time money and will be placed in the Capital Account for infrastructure work in the Town. The schools will receive a portion of the money. It remains however money we do not have.
Ralph Lauretano: Why is redistricting before building begins not feasible?
Craigie: It is not feasible because we simply cannot fit in the existing Elementary Schools and we believe one move would be the most cost effective and educationally sound method. If we redistrict all the Elementary students we still have the Middle School Students on the site. We have to take all students into consideration.
JD: Why is it not feasible to redistrict K-4 to the remaining three schools since it will happen at projects end anyway, leaving 70-something fifth graders - basically three classrooms - to find room for? I understand that will leave middle schoolers across the way from the construction site but construction will actually take place directly up against the wall of . Between the noise and vibration in the Central building, dust and fumes what kind of impact will that have on their education in their most formative years? How will they make up for any deficiencies compared to their couterparts at the other elementary schools?
Craigie: We simply do not fit and we believe all those issues have been addressed and will continue to be addressed by the CMR once we get funding and move to the next phase. We believe it would not be educationally sound to house children in gyms, move staff and then have to do it again.
Ralph Lauretano: Why haven't the Building and School Committees been more responsive to the safety concerns of Central School parents?
Craigie: I believe we have been responsive to all the concerns that have been poised to us through the 9 Public Meetings, 26 months of Building Committee meetings, multiple written and media pieces and special meeting at your school.We have openly discussed and answered numerous questions, we have hired a construction manager at risk to formalize all the plans that will be put into effect once the project is funded. Perhaps there is something specific that you would like answered? We have spent countless hours reading and digesting information and did have a specific meeting at Central School.
Gina Sgarzi: What is PLAN B? According to Jeannie Craigie who attended the Central School meeting there is a PLAN B.
Craigie: As I said the other evening the Building Committee will have the option to go back to the State and discuss our plan should this not be approved to see if we can get an extension on the funding. I think we have to wait until after April 3 and look at the entire project. It is a bit premature to look at other alternatives since this is the approved plan that we are recommending. This is not to say we will just abandon the plan. Our plan remains stead fast with the construction project that has been developed adjacent to the Central school. We are just in the schematic phase and not in the full design plan. The planning for most construction, especially municipal construction, goes through three phases: schematic design, design development and final contract documents. We are at the end of the first phase, schematic design, which is the stage at which the MSBA demands a final commitment from a town before we continue in the planning process. Issues such as traffic control and specific noise or dust control measures are not specified at this schematic design stage, but in the remaining two phases.
W.A.S.: What programs will return to Stoneham as a result of this project? My child did not have team teaching and many other programs. Will they return? And if we don't approve this build will we loose all the state money and have to build a new school with the entire bill on the backs of the taxpayers?
Craigie: When the final building project is completed and redistricting occurs we will, due to consolidation, have the opportunity to bring back team teaching to the Middle School. Art and music to the elementary schools and the critical need for re-instituting reading teachers. If the ballot question fails we can go back to the State and ask for an extension to try again. I do not know if they will approve our request or not. A new Middle School would be thus delayed again--not sure what will happen. Let's hope it passes!
Benefits to Taxpayers
Sr taxpayer: As a senior taxpayer, how does this project benefit our community?
Craigie: I too join your ranks. This project and the quality of our schools directly correlates to our property value. We need to make sure Stoneham has State of the Art Buildings and Good education happening in those buildings to ensure our schools are vibrant and our students continue to flourish and critical thinkers and life long learners. I believe in Stoneham and am here for the long haul and my home is my greatest investment. I also believe this is the best project to give Stoneham a rebirth!
Paul: Were you on the committee that felt that Stoneham needed four new neighborhood schools? If so, why the change of heart? Do you feel it was bad planning by the town to have built those four new grammar schools? What happens if the grammar school population increases again? Where are you going to put these children without over populating the classroom sizes?
Craigie: I was on the committee then and at that time those were the options to replace schools which had one plug in rooms and were not conducive to 21st Century learning. At that time almost 15 years ago our town was experiencing a growth. Today, we have diminished in population. The state has applauded our efforts to recapture space and do not encourage over-building. Even after we redistrict we will have space to grow. I still believe in neighborhood schools but our boundary lines will be enlarged.
Guest: I am for the project with the exception of grade schoolers being educated on the construction site. Please reconsider and you will have the community's support!
Craigie: I would hope that you would embrace the project for the benefit of the entire community. We feel we will have the best CMR possible to help us through the process. The construction workers will not be in the building where children are present. We have made that very clear. If they are they will be there at our request and not roaming the building.
Ralph Lauretano: What is the extent of the arsenic found at the new Middle School site. Have the costs for its removal been factored into the construction cost yet, or will this be additional? Why would you build a school on a known waste site if there are other sites (East and North Schools) in town. According to the DEP notice of responsibility, Dr. Les Olson has been informed of the actions that need to be taken but I have yet to hear this addressed. And, if the area of the Central School was supposedly cleaned up prior to construction in 2000, why are they finding more now?
Craigie: The Middle School site has had geo-tech drilling and samples taken. These samplings had a reportable amount of arsenic; this is not a new finding. The notice of responsibility has been received and it will be addressed by the letter of the law by the construction team and reviewed by DEP personnel. The land at East School and North may not have been a large enough tract of land to build this facility by MSBA regulations. Given the highly residential areas and the fact we still had rentals there and baseball has sole use of the fields, these tracts of land were not suitable. The cost of environmental work has been factored into the entire cost of the project. All areas were remediated when the new Central School was built to the satisfaction of the State.
The old DESE building regs declared the East and North sites to be too small. The current MSBA regulations do not have the same specific criteria. Sites need to be assessed according to local and state codes and the ability to support the educational program.
The next response on the site is not due to the DEP until December 2012. The next assessment steps will not begin until after the April election. Funds for remediation are included in the project budget.
The 2000 remediation focused primarily on surface-level contamination along the railroad right of way. We have expanded our investigation to include deeper levels of soil away from the Central School site.
Paul: Why couldn't the Middle School have been added onto ?
Craigie: The site was looked at in the preliminary feasibility study. Traffic patterns and egress access from the site in a small densely built neighborhood did not meet the needs of the project.