WAKEFIELD – Over 90 people tuned into a video conference about blasting for a new Northeast Metro Tech on Thursday, September 28. “We blast a lot and it’s safe,” Matt Shaughnessy of Maine Drilling and Blasting said, but several people tuning in didn’t like all they heard. 

Site blasting will begin at the Hemlock Road on October 12, as the project to build a new $317.5 million state-of-the-art vocational high school enters a new phase.

Shaughnessy outlined the blasting process and safety measures that will be in place during the work. Up to two blasts are expected each day, Monday through Friday, between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The project team indicated that they would coordinate with Northeast Metro Tech and Wakefield Public Schools administration to minimize impact with school activities. 

Blasting is expected to continue through January 31, 2024.

An early draft of the planned new Northeast Regional Vocational School in Wakefield

Shaughnessy noted that although a sound-warning system is used prior to each blast, it is for the safety of the on-site crew and is generally not heard outside the work zone. Instead, abutters and other residents who wish to be informed of the blasts should sign up for blast notifications. These notifications, available via text or phone call, will be sent 30 minutes prior to a blast.  Interested residents can sign up by calling Esta Falvey at Maine Drilling and Blasting at 508-478-0273.

The community can learn more about this project on the project website. Questions about the design, schedule and construction can be directed to the project team.

Some of those listening in on last week’s blasting meeting didn’t like what they heard.

“They put a little science on it and it was accurate, but they’ll be blasting when kids are in school. One hundred percent of the time,” Paul Rybicki said. “Twice a day is 10 a week and 40 in a month.”

High school teacher and Friends of Wakefield’s Northeast Metro Tech Forest member Jennifer Fanning asked about the noise. Shaughnessy told her “it may surprise you a bit, but shouldn’t disturb anything. It’ll be like a low rumble of thunder.”

Rybicki was unsatisfied with the answer to his questions about phases of blasting. He was told Phase 1 would end January 31, but was not given a clear answer about anything after that, although Neil Benner of Gilbane Building said, “We’re hoping we can get it all done within the window we’re talking about tonight.”

Rybicki also doesn’t like the idea of having a driveway to the school off Farm Street away from Route 129 towards Stone Way, June Circle and power lines.

Benner told him National Grid “determined there is no threat to their infrastructure.”

Nevertheless, Rybicki feels, “Access to the new hilltop school via the driveway from Hemlock is foreseeable negligent design and exposes the town to liability. The access road from Hemlock has no sidewalk and up to 10 degree grade, while the north facing, elevated ramp is up to 8.3% degree incline.  Both of these facts are dangerous design features which will regularly cause preventable injuries.

“Spending millions of dollars starting construction without all permits is reckless disregard for the taxpayers. Starting this work at added cost, without all permits, is a breach of fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers and an insult to the decision by the Wakefield Conservation Committee and total disrespect for state Department of Environmental Protection appeal process. They are currently avoiding all 10 wetlands onsite and wetland buffer areas. This added cost and mobilization charges. Also, if the DEP denies the wetlands permit for this site all the millions will be completely wasted and the 14 acres of forest have been trashed,” references to denial of permits by the local Conservation Commission on environmental concerns for vegetated wetlands.

He also feels, “The scope of the work and expense to build on Forest Core Hilltop vs. already developed 30 acres cannot be justified in any fair and transparent review. The infiltrative capacities of the wetland buffer zone complex will be destroyed, including cutting over 14 acres of trees (project states 2,097 trees removed), blasting approximately 140,000 cubic yards of rock across 10 acres and creation of over 8 acres of new impervious surface.”

He also referred to a 2016 Feasibility Study that determined the hilltop area was not viable for a school and “create a financially untenable building solution and/or functionally compromised building plans,” based on difficulties in clearing the area and the unevenness of the land, leading to steep entrances in to the school area.

“Anytime there’s blasting I believe there’s a blasting company with a long and relatively positive reputation,” Bronwyn Della-Volpe of Wakefield added. “My concern is not so much that but the aftermath. No matter mitigation may be in place, the project doesn’t comply with the Wetlands Protection Act. There’s a whole eco-system up there, an integral part of the waterworks. When trees and vegetation are taken away, so is water holding capacity. Where does all that water go?”