By MAUREEN DOHERTY
NORTH READING — By now, everyone should be fully aware that there is a Special Election on Tuesday, Jan. 25 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. in this town and 11 other communities served by the Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational School in Wakefield, also commonly called Northeast Metro Tech.
This Special Election has been called by the District School Committee seeking approval of a new $317 million facility that would be reimbursed with the largest state grant in the history of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) — $140.9 million. The balance of $176 million would be paid for proportionally by each of the member communities over a 30-year period. North Reading’s share after the grant is applied would be approximately $4,686,498, excluding interest. The town’s annual debt service payment, based on current enrollment, would be about $271,260 for 30 years.
For those who are unaware of the significance of this Special Election, Northeast Metro Tech is where high school students from North Reading as well as the cities and towns of Chelsea, Malden, Melrose, Reading, Revere, Saugus, Stoneham, Wakefield, Winchester, Winthrop and Woburn receive both a trade school education and their high school diploma in the span of four years.
While many graduates of Northeast Metro Tech enter the trades immediately after graduating or begin their apprentice programs, many also further their education at two- and four-year technical schools or traditional colleges and universities.
The school opened in 1968 and according to Northeast officials, it has not had any significant upgrades since that time, therefore, they cannot house all the students who apply each year to attend — they turn away hundreds of students every year.
The new school building proposal would increase its capacity from its current 1,300 students to 1,600 students and would also make the school fully ADA compliant while modernizing its shops to respond to the demand for trade, technical and human services careers in the 21st century.
“I am hoping that everybody in town not only gets out and votes but if you have relatives or friends in the other communities then reach out to them and ask them to get out and vote,” Judy Dyment told the Select Board at its virtual meeting Monday night.
Dyment is the town’s elected representative on the Northeast Metro Tech District School Committee and also serves as the chair of its School Building Committee. “This is a very, very important election for all of the cities and towns and for the kids seeking vocational education because this is a one-time deal. If this does not happen it is not going to happen, and that would be a terrible thing for all the students seeking vocational education,” added Dyment. Now retired, Dyment taught Cosmetology at the school for 25 years. They have been working on this proposal for many years.
“The polls are open at St. Theresa’s Church and the hours of the election in all cities and towns is from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. I thank the Board of Selectmen and everyone in town that has been vocal and supporting it and I look forward to a great outcome,” Dyment added.
Unanimous support at
“It is important to remind the public that Town Meeting unanimously supported this initiative. I think we were the first community to jump on board,” added Select Board member Stephen O’Leary.
O’Leary explained that two of the 12 communities are “forcing” this special election – Chelsea and Saugus. “Each and every vote counts. In other words, it is a majority of those are present and voting across all of the communities so it is important to have a good turnout here in North Reading in support of this initiative.”
O’Leary thanked Dyment for the time she has dedicated to this project over the years. “I want to acknowledge the time that she has sacrificed because she is chairing this building committee and we are well aware that she has a busy schedule ahead of her,” O’Leary said.
“It is a tremendous asset to our community. Vocational education is so important and many of our kids benefit from it; more kids will benefit from it. There is a waiting list of over 600 students trying to get in there. The facility can’t handle the demand. This is an opportunity to do it for the cheapest price that we possibly can. The state is coming up with unprecedented money for this particular project so we should get out there and support it.”
“Everyone in North Reading has been supportive. It was such an honor for me to be at Town Meeting when it was voted unanimously,” Dyment said.
Finance Committee Chair Abby Hurlbut also supported the project. “Judy is right. This is an extraordinarily important thing that we all vote in the affirmative,” Hurlbut said.
Absentee voting option
Hurlbut asked if voting was exclusively in-person “or will we be able to cast some strange and wonderful mail-in ballot?”
Dyment said that absentee ballots are available. Town Administrator Mike Gilleberto confirmed that absentee ballots are the only alternative to in-person voting for this Special Election as there will not be either an early voting option or a general mail-in ballot option.
The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot for this Special Election is Wednesday, Jan. 19. For the convenience of the public, there is a live link for an absentee ballot application — which is standardized for all elections in the state — on the town website at northreadingma.gov. The link to the Town Clerk’s page is located in a banner on the home page. Or you can go directly to https://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/elepdf/absentee/English-Absentee-Ballot-Application.pdf
While an official “application” for an absentee ballot makes it a more convenient and standardizes process, any registered voter may also sign and date a letter to the Town Clerk (include date of birth, voting and mailing address, reason for requesting an absentee and the election(s) the voter will be voting absentee) by the Jan. 19 deadline. There may be other specifics to include so if you not going to use the standardized form it’s advisable to contact the Town Clerk’s office to inquire at or northreadingma.gov/town-clerk/news/special-election or 978-357-5230.
Absentee ballot applications or letters can be mailed to the Town Clerk’s Office, 235 North St., North Reading MA 01864 or hand-delivered at the Town Clerk’s counter or deposited into the red, white and blue striped ballot drop-off box located outside the main door to Town Hall by Jan. 19. Applications may also be submitted electronically by fax (978-664-4196) or email, as long as the requester’s signature is visible.
Voters can request the ballot be mailed back to them or they can vote right at the counter, seal the envelope and hand it to the clerk. They may also take the ballot home as long as it is received by the Town Clerk’s office in mail on Election Day or deposited in the ballot drop-off box by 6 p.m. when the polls close and the box is locked. Given the uncertainty of timely mail delivery in the COVID era, it is advised that such requests are made sooner rather than later.