Published June 16, 2021


LYNNFIELD — Voters overwhelming approved allocating more funds for the elementary schools’ expansion project during Town Meeting on Saturday, June 12 in the Lynnfield High School gym.

Town Administrator Rob Dolan gave an overview of Article 13, which asked voters to approve allocating $1.75 million for security equipment, drainage improvements, site improvements and material costs for the $17 million elementary schools’ expansion project that was approved late last year.

The School Committee, Select Board and Finance Committee all unanimously voted to recommend Article 13.

TOWN MEETING overwhelmingly voted to approve Article 13 on Saturday, June 12 in the Lynnfield High School gym. (Dan Tomasello Photo)

“It is fair to say that if Article 13 does not pass, the school expansion project which includes additional classroom space and site improvements at Huckleberry Hill School and Summer Street School is in serious jeopardy and may not happen,” said Dolan. “Article 13 calls for $1.75 million that would be funded through a municipal bond paid within the Proposition 2 ½ limitation. To be clear, there will be no additional taxation to pay for this critical investment.”

Dolan said Article 13 includes $770,000 in order to increase the elementary schools’ expansion project’s contingency budget from 3 percent to 8 percent.

“The cost of materials is like a massive rollercoaster right now,” said Dolan. “We need to protect this project in a very unstable economic world. The project contingency will deal with issues that are unforeseen that are caused by things that are not in our control. We have done our due diligence and remain on budget, but we only have a 3 percent contingency. If the bid is over the approved appropriation by even a single dollar, the town by law will not be able to sign a contract with the general contractor who submits the qualified low bid.”

Dolan said the School Building Committee is monitoring bid openings in other communities.

“Most are coming in the range of what has been budgeted,” said Dolan. “But there are plenty of outliers such as Brookline High School that came in $8 million over budget. We feel very strong going into this bid process, but a 3 percent contingency is not enough. If the contingency is not needed, it simply won’t be spent.”

Dolan also noted Article 13 includes $700,000 for drainage improvements around both elementary schools. He recalled that several abutters told the School Board Committee and the Planning Board during previous meetings about flooding problems that have occurred at both sites over the past 20 years.

“Through our meetings, we have learned there is significant flooding that has caused extensive property damage,” said Dolan. “Flooding has gotten much worse since the schools were first renovated 15 years ago. We did an engineering analysis, and the analysis identified many issues that contribute to the flooding in those areas of town. The Stormwater Management Bylaw requires full remediation of potential flooding resulting from this project. That was not in place 15 years ago. We not only have to fix our problems for today, but we also have to fix the problems from 15 years ago in order for the Planning Board to pass this project so it can move forward. Since the ground is open, it makes financial and engineering sense to finish this project and help these neighbors.”

Dolan said Article 13 also includes $110,000 in order replace Summer Street School’s bi-directional amplifier (BDA) system. While Huckleberry Hill School’s BDA system passed with “flying colors” during a recent test, Dolan said Summer Street’s BDA system failed.

“Schools throughout the nation have thick cement walls,” said Dolan. “These walls make communication for cell phones and radios a challenge depending on what part of the building you are in. A bi-directional amplifier solves that problem. We must make sure that we protect our children and educators in any situation.”

Dolan said Article 13 also includes $70,000 for sidewalk improvements at both schools, which includes funds for repairing Knoll Road’s deteriorating sidewalk. He said $100,000 will also increase the number of parking spaces at both schools.

Patrice Lane resident Pat Campbell urged Town Meeting to reject Article 13. She said local officials were “a little too hasty” with approving the elementary schools’ expansion project during a Special Town Meeting and a Special Town Election late last year, and accused local officials of wasting taxpayer money by holding them. She also said the flooding problems at both schools should have been addressed in the early 2000s when both elementary schools were renovated. She also suggested reducing the number of classrooms in both schools’ additions instead of increasing the contingency budget.

“I think we can live within our budget,” said Campbell.

Main Street resident Ken Peterson concurred with Campbell’s viewpoint.

“I think this entire expansion project should be revisited,” said Peterson. “I am an engineer. If something is not right, we should go back to the drawing board. The original budget was a rush to judgment. There are other appropriations in this town we need money for.”

School Building Committee member Jack Dahlstedt told Town Meeting that approving Article 13 was a smart financial decision.

“The current economic situation has presented both challenges and opportunities,” said Dahlstedt. “Contingencies between 5 percent and 10 percent are very common and are smart. The contingency will not be used if it is not needed. Going into a project like this with a contingency that is 3 percent is not prudent. A contingency in the range of 5 to 10 percent is prudent.”

Planning Board member Page Wilkins said voters gave local officials a “clear mandate” when the expansion project was approved late last year. In addition to benefiting students such as her incoming first-grader, Wilkins said Article 13 will help the abutters of both schools.

“I am relatively new to town, and the one thing I have noticed is that this town doesn’t do anything hastily,” said Wilkins. “This town not only cares about the schools, but also our neighbors and our community. I attended meetings about this project, and the neighborhood around Summer Street is really concerned about these drainage issues. It’s a big problem and we need to fix it.”

Campbell made a motion that called for a ballot vote since electronic voting wasn’t being used at this session of Town Meeting.

“It is consistent with Robert’s Rules and has been done before,” said Campbell.

Voters rejected Campbell’s amendment by a voice vote.

Town Meeting subsequently approved Article 13 by a 98-14 vote.

SBC Chairman John Scenna was pleased Town Meeting approved Article 13.

“The School Building Committee is very happy with the support the community has shown us,” said Scenna in an interview with the Villager after Town Meeting. “We are looking forward to opening the bids on July 8. More importantly, we are looking forward to starting and delivering this project on schedule for the kids.”

School Committee Chairman Rich Sjoberg agreed.

“I want to thank the School Building Committee and Town Administrator Rob Dolan for working very hard to put Article 13 together so that the school expansion project can move forward,” said Sjoberg.