Published November 18, 2020

This Saturday’s Special Town Meeting is one of the most significant sessions in the last decade. When Town Meeting begins at 1:30 p.m. at Lynnfield High School’s Pioneer Stadium, we encourage residents to vote in favor of the $17 million elementary schools’ expansion project.

We don’t take this endorsement lightly and, in all honesty, we wish we didn’t have to make it. We are well aware that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked physical, financial and emotional havoc on people’s lives around the world, including right here in Lynnfield. But the reality is this project is in the best interest of the town’s youngest children and the community as a whole.

Local officials were forced to bring this project forward during incredibly difficult times because elementary school enrollment is spiking and both schools are not big enough to accommodate the growing influx of students. The permanent additions that would be built onto the existing schools will address the problem in a prudent way.

While school enrollment at times feels like a roller-coaster with various peaks and valleys, local enrollment data has confirmed enrollment projections compiled by the New England School Development Council (NESDEC). Over the last three fiscal years, the School Department has been forced to add five positions at both elementary schools in order to accommodate the growing number of students hitting the books.

Local officials explored a number of alternatives to the expansion project, but none of them will solve the problem. Relocating the preschool back to the Central Office on Salem Street will not rectify the issue because that will only get Summer Street School an additional two classrooms while NESDEC is projecting the school system will need 48 classrooms district-wide by the 2023-2024 school year. We are not mathematicians, but the last time we checked two does not equal 48.

Redistricting will also not work because both schools are running at capacity. A new school is not needed because the enrollment boom does not just justify one.

While $17 million is certainly expensive, the cost will only go up if the project gets delayed. The new middle school and high school in Saugus, which are based on the design used for North Reading’s secondary schools, cost almost $161 million in 2017. The North Reading project cost $123 million after voters approved it a second time in 2013. The Lynnfield project will cost households an additional $205 a year in property taxes, which equals $17 a month.

Implementing art-on-a-cart and music-on-a-cart could serve as interim solutions, but neither are long-term solutions and both are not in the best interest of students. With more and more children glued to screens nowadays, we should be fostering children’s creativity as opposed to neglecting it.

If the project does not pass, class sizes will skyrocket at both schools. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out small class sizes are in students’ best interest.

It’s important to note that while the school expansion project has vaulted to the top of the town’s list of priorities, we empathize with library and public safety officials as those respective projects remain on the back burner. It is our hope Saturday’s discussion will kick off a long overdue community conversation about the town upgrading its facilities. Those projects are needed just as much as the expansion project and neither should be forgotten.

In the fall of 2010, voters approved building an addition onto Lynnfield High School due to increasing enrollment while the world was in the midst of the Great Recession. We can’t help but feel a case of déjà vu as the town gears up to vote on expanding the elementary schools 10 years later during a global pandemic. The town has had a long-standing tradition of supporting Lynnfield Public Schools and we hope that tradition continues on Saturday. Vote yes.