NORTH READING — Members of the Select Board, Finance Committee, School Committee, and attendees at the Oct. 4 Town Meeting unanimously voted to approve the authorization of the Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational School District construction project.
Listed as Article 16 in the Town Meeting warrant, this plan outlined the $317,422,620 borrowing for the construction of a new school building at the Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational School site in Wakefield, located at 100 Hemlock Drive.
School Committee members and administrators from Northeast Metro Tech in attendance at Town Meeting expressed their gratitude for the unanimous vote, as their educational facility is 50 years old and needs to be renovated in order to provide adequate resources for teachers and students in the 21st century. North Reading and Stoneham were the first two members of the 12-member communities in the district to approve the funding needed to enable the designing, engineering, constructing, and equipping of the new vocational school and related athletic facilities as both towns held Town Meetings on Oct. 4.
Given that these plans have been 15 years in the making, Northeast Metro Tech’s School Committee and its School Building Committee are overjoyed to see their efforts come to fruition. Vice Chairman Judy Dyment described feeling absolutely overwhelmed by the unanimous vote in favor of the project.
“Words can’t express how we felt,” she told the Transcript the day after the vote.
Dyment served as a Cosmetology teacher at Northeast Metro Tech for 25 years and a Cooperative Education Coordinator for three, with this being her 11th year as North Reading’s representative on the School District’s School Committee, which is comprised of 12 members total, or one member from each of the 12 communities in the district. She is grateful for the support from North Reading residents, as this vote will bring them one step closer to seeing the blueprint designs for Northeast Metro Tech transform into reality.
With a larger facility, the administration at Northeast Metro Tech will have the opportunity to introduce new, innovative programs and shops to future generations of students – which includes North Reading residents – as advanced technologies become more readily available.
The new school will feature 21st-century learning environments, improved Individualized Education Program (IEP) accommodations, state-of-the-art shop space, a new primary access roadway from Farm Street to reduce traffic congestion, a full-size gym, a 750-seat auditorium, outdoor space for learning, and a brand-new cafeteria. With a focus on sustainability, designs for energy-efficient mechanical systems and vegetated roofs, as well as provisions for solar panels, have also been outlined. Moreover, the compact, four-story development will offer an upper-level courtyard, roof decks, and a double-height library rotunda.
Construction plans for the Northeast Metro Tech anticipate a total enrollment increase from 1,300 to 1,600 students, as bigger classroom spaces will enable more applicants to attend the school. Additionally, the Northeast Metro Tech Building Committee is proud to announce that the layout of the new building will be ADA compliant and fully handicap accessible, unlike the present facility.
Largest school grant in history
According to Dyment, the construction project has been given the largest school building grant in Massachusetts history, which reflects the importance and necessity for an upgrade to its educational resources. While the total estimated project cost is $317,422,620, the town’s share is $8,424,962. Both the total amount and the town’s share are anticipated to be reduced by this state reimbursement of over $140.9M from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), making the remaining share for the 12-member communities $176,570,701.
The town’s share, after receipt of the grant, is anticipated to be approximately $4,686,498 excluding interest. The town’s annual debt service payment would begin in 2023 and increases to $271,260 in 2026 for 30 years, based on the current enrollment of 34 students.
Efforts to increase state and federal support for the project will continue, as building committee members at Northeast have joined other regional technical school districts to support this cause. One example is their commitment to the Alliance for Vocational Education, which supports comprehensive legislation that would allow for the expansion and reconstruction of vocational districts to serve the 3,000 students on a wait-list to attend these schools throughout the Commonwealth.
Although major fiscal impact to the 12 communities in the district will not be experienced until Fiscal Year ’26, due to the proposed construction and borrowing schedule, local support needs to be acquired prior to December of 2021 to ensure that Northeast Metro Tech’s school district reimbursement rate from the MSBA for eligible project costs remains at 77%, rather than the current 62.67% approved rate. This is why it was necessary to bring Article 16 for vote at October Town Meeting.
The Northeast Metro Tech School District Committee will be meeting with 10 other communities between now and November 9 to receive approval for the construction project costs. Meetings have been scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 12: Malden City Council (held after press time); Monday, Oct. 18: Chelsea City Council, 7 p.m., Chelsea City Hall; and Saugus Special Town Meeting, 7:30 p.m. (held on Zoom; Saugus residents must request meeting link from their Town Clerk); and Tuesday, Oct. 19: Winthrop Town Council Finance/Executive Committee, 6 p.m., Winthrop Town Hall.
$25M in savings if approved
The project will proceed on schedule if the legislative bodies in all 12 district communities support the project. If one community opposes the project, voters in all of the communities can still support it in a district wide referendum planned during the winter, according to District Superintendent Dave DiBarri. The communities will save $25 million in costs if this project is approved this calendar year.
If all goes according to plan, construction of the school will begin in the summer of 2023, reaching completion in early 2026. Students may get to step foot inside the building as early as 2025.
On behalf of the Board, Dyment exclaimed, “It’s exciting for all of us and we want to thank the citizens of North Reading for their total support.”
How to learn more
Town residents can visit the Northeast Metro Tech project website for updates and new project information at www.NortheastBuildingProject.com or go to the dedicated project Facebook page to further increase community involvement at https://www.facebook.com/NewNEMT.