Voters will vote on whether or not they support a debt exclusion override for the new Winchester High School project among other issues on Tuesday, December 10.
Issues with mold, mildew and must have been long documented, the asbestos in the basement needs to be abated and the infrastructure along with an anticipated 200 plus students heading to the high school have forced the town to consider the largest fiscal undertaking in Winchester history.
The project will cost $129.9 million dollars. The project would cost the town $85 million dollars, and the state would pay $44.5 million through the Massachusetts School Building Authority partnership. State Rep. Jason Lewis, School Committee member Cindy Bohne and former Selectman Tom Howley gave a presentation at the Jenks Center on Thursday, December 5 at the Jenks Center. The panel, along with numerous other groups in town including the Board of Selectmen, Town Meeting and the School Committee agree that the high school is structurally and mechanically inadequate.
Cindy Bohne told the audience that there are three major goals this rebuilding project hopes to address: Building deficiencies, enrolment growth and the issues with the classrooms. “The first issue we have is chasing leaks and the building envelope. Most of the moisture issues we have come from a roof that is 10 years past its’ life. The outside envelope is also failing: We have brick that is straight on concrete mortar with no insulation or water barrier between them. We rely on sealants for our plexiglass windows.” Just last year, the town had to invest $100,000 to patch and repair the roof. The basement is also below the flood plain and floods each time there is a flood problem in town.
“Accessbilty is also a huge issue here. Not only do we need to get students into the school but we need to get them out in times of emergency,” Bohne said. “Also, of all the municipal buildings in town, the High School uses 30 percent of the energy, which means 1/3 of a dollar spent on municipal energy goes to the High School.”
Another major issue facing the High School is the swelling enrolment and the need for updated Special Education space. There are currently 1,150 students with a swell of 200 heading in within the next two to three years, for which the panels said ten more classrooms are needed.
Tom Howley was on the Planning Board for five years, and was a Selectman for nine years. “During that time,” Howley said. “I was continuously impressed with how the town valued the quality of their schools. It plays a huge roll in people’s decision to live here. It is what helped keep our tax base strong, especially during this most recent recession when many communities around us were struggling, our property values held steady and are now going up. That’s a result of smart investing in our schools. The high school is the anchor of our schools here in Winchester.”
Phase One of this project would take about 14 months and would finish in September 2015. During the construction period of half of the building, students would be in mobile classrooms. Phase Two would take care of the other half of the building and Phase Three would be the gym and auditorium repairs.
“If the override isn’t met, we’ll forfeit state funding,” Rep. Jason Lewis said. “This is a moment we should seize.”
Voters will have their say on Tuesday.