The year 1968 was memorable for many reasons; some of it good but much of it tragic and tumultuous.
It started with the Tet Offensive in January, a turning point in the Vietnam War that lasted through September. The war’s escalation was a major reason that LBJ did not seek re-election.
Two great men were assassinated that year – Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4 and Robert F. Kennedy on June 6 – leaving the country reeling.
If you were a high school student attending the brand new Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational School in Wakefield, chances are you heard about these tragic events from your favorite DJ while listening to the hit songs of the day – “Hey Jude,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “Born to be Wild,” and “Since You’ve Been Gone” – on your transistor radio.
What hadn’t happened yet in 1968? For starters, man had yet to step foot on the moon and no one had ever heard of Woodstock, Sesame Street, Jim Henson or his Muppets. And the Vietnam War wouldn’t officially end for another eight years.
So right about now you’re wondering what relevance the events of 1968 could possibly have in the year 2022. It is relevant because it is in this context that today’s students from North Reading and 11 other communities seeking an education in the trades are expected to learn 21st century skills in a facility that hasn’t had a significant upgrade since their grandparents were wearing bellbottoms and protesting the Vietnam war.
Today, 16 shops are offered at Northeast: Automotive Repair, Automotive Technology, Business Technology, Carpentry, Cosmetology, Culinary Arts, Dental Assisting, Design and Visual Communications, Drafting & Design, Early Childhood Education, Electrical, Health Assisting, HVAC & Refrigeration, Metal Fabrication, Plumbing & Pipefitting, and Robotics and Automation.
The proposed new building would allow the school to expand its offerings by adding three new programs: Biotechnology, Marketing, and Medical Assisting, while also expanding its enrollment from 1,300 students to 1,600 students to accommodate the backlog of hundreds of waitlisted students who are turned away each and every year.
It’s relevant because when you need a house built or your toilet is backed up or your SUV needs to be repaired; when you’d like to eat at a restaurant, get your hair cut or your elderly mother needs a personal care attendant; or even if you’re dreaming about owning a fleet of driverless delivery trucks, more than likely the person filling your needs got started in the trades at a vocational or technical school. But today, our future workforce is being shortchanged by this dated facility.
It’s also relevant because the unprecedented grant of a 76.84% reimbursement of eligible costs from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) – the largest in its history – will bring the price tag of the $317M new school down to $176M which will be shared based on the number of students each community sends to the school. North Reading currently sends 37 students. The town’s share, after MSBA reimbursement and based on current enrollment, is anticipated to be $4,686,498, excluding interest, bonded over a 30-year span starting in 2026.
With the current rate of inflation rising faster than it has in the past 40 years, the cost of a new Northeast Metro Tech will never be less than this if voters allow this opportunity to slip away and the NEMT School Building Committee has to start at ground zero.
Every vote counts equally on the “yes” or “no” ballot question, regardless of the size of the community or how many students from your town attend Northeast Metro Tech. So take the time to go to the polls on Tuesday, Jan. 25 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at St. Theresa’s Parish Hall, 63 Winter St., and vote YES on this ballot question.
All COVID protocols apply at the polls so wear your masks (which are required unless you are exempt for medical reasons or under age 5). You can even bring your own blue or black ink pen or No. 2 pencil to mark your ballot, or use a single-use pencil available at the polls.
Tomorrow’s workforce is depending on your participation in the voting process, so please pay it forward and take the time to vote for this new school.