[Editor's note: The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Stoneham resident Michelle Lauretano.]
On April 3, the town of Stoneham will be asking voters to vote "yes" or "no" to an override to fund a new at the site of the current . The Middle School and Central School will remain open and children will be attending classes on the construction site during the approximately two years it will take to construct the new school. Upon completion, children in grades 5-8 will be moved into the new Middle School, Central School will be eliminated and the students in grades K-4 will be redistricted to the remaining three elementary schools.
I have recently been inside both the Middle School and the . There is no doubt in my mind that both of these facilities are in need of attention. Unfortunately, there is also no doubt in my mind that the potential cost of this proposed Middle School project outweighs any and all potential benefit.
My children are currently enrolled at Central School and would both benefit from having a new Middle School. I have read everything I could find and attended several meetings over several months regarding this project. I have asked many questions and continuously attended “the next meeting” in the hopes of getting answers to my and my neighbors’ concerns. I honestly wanted to receive the information and assurances that would help me support this project. Unfortunately, these answers have not been available.
In my mind, putting the new Middle School at the High School would have made the most sense because then both the Middle School and the High School students could have benefited from the new facilities and the two schools could have shared the High School auditorium. In addition, this option would have left the four elementary schools intact to accommodate potential growth from the three new housing projects being discussed in Stoneham (the Wincrest development at the old Lady of Our Nazareth site, the Boston Regional Medical Center site and the A.W. Chesterton site) and any new families lured into the town by the new Middle School.
I will not be happy if the town needs to fund additional capacity at the elementary level in the future because they eliminated Central Elementary School; will you? While I do not agree with the site choice for the new school, this alone would not have caused me to vote "no."
My primary stumbling block to voting for this project is the fact that the Middle School and Central Elementary will remain open during the approximately two year construction phase. Not many of us would send our children into a construction zone on a daily basis. However, this is exactly what the parents of 800-plus Stoneham children are going to be asked to do.
A construction zone is an inherently dangerous place no matter what precautions are taken. Tragic accidents occur daily in much more benign environments than generally exist on a construction site. I do not want my child in a situation where I am not confident of their safety; would you?
The proposed construction site is a DEP contaminated waste site. Testing of the soil in conjunction with the proposed Middle School project have showed conclusively that contaminants, namely arsenic, still exist in the soil on the property. The ventilation system at Central Elementary School is a “Univent System” which works by pulling in air from outside and mixing it with air from the inside to maintain air quality.
Dirt and dust are inevitable on a construction site and the question remains: Will the carcinogens be in the air once they start digging and if so what is to prevent them from being circulated throughout the schools through the ventilation systems? Increased exposure to dirt and dust may be a problem for children/adults with respiratory issues and exposure to carcinogens could be a problem for everyone. I do not want my child in a situation where they could be exposed to known carcinogens or other cancer-causing agents or where their health could be otherwise adversely affected; would you?
When I drop off and pick up my children at school, I see a multitude of familiar faces. People who are not usually there stand out to me and I find myself looking at them a little longer, especially if they are picking up children that I know. When someone new picks up my children, the people I know at school will ask me about them so I know I am not the only one who notices when there is a “new” adult on the playground. This project will require over 800 children to be exposed to a multitude of strangers working on the site. I do not feel comfortable with my child attending school and being released from school into an environment where there is the potential for strangers to go unnoticed; would you?
My children’s teachers have consistently told me that kids need a quiet space that is free from distractions to do their school work in. I have attended several meetings regarding the proposed Middle School and interestingly enough, a basketball practice in the gym above the meeting space and the janitor vacuuming have both proven to be a distraction to adults. It is inconceivable to me that these kids will not be distracted from their studies by the heavy equipment and noise that will be associated with this construction project. There may be some students who will be able to tune out the distractions and focus on their studies; however, there will be some that will not and those students will inevitably fall behind and be at an unfair disadvantage. I would not expect any child to excel in their school work in a noisy, dirty environment; would you?
The answers given regarding parents’ safety concerns for these students have not made me feel confident that “an urban build in a suburban community” is in the best interests of the 800 or so residents of Stoneham who will be attending school on a construction site on contaminated land for approximately two years while the proposed new Middle School is being built.
In short, I will be voting no on April 3. I feel that I am being asked to make a sacrifice for the greater good of Stoneham and the stakes are too high. I have not received the information I need to feel confident that my children will be safe during this project and I am not willing to risk the safety, health, education and general well being of my children or anyone else’s children for a new Middle School; are you?