By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — Representatives of the Northeast Metro Tech regional vocational school on Hemlock Road were on hand at Monday’s Town Council meeting to provide an update on plans for a new $317 million school that will serve students from the 12 member communities. Currently, Wakefield sends about 100 students to the school.
It was announced earlier this month that the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has awarded the district a grant of up to $140.8 million toward the cost of a new building.
A vote is scheduled at the November Town Meeting seeking the
Wakefield’s approval for the project. All communities in the district must approve the project before Dec. 23. If one community’s Town Meeting or City Council were to reject the plan, it would have to go to an election in all communities, with the aggregate vote determining the plan’s fate.
Brittany Carisella, Wakefield’s representative on the Northeast Metro Tech School Committee, said that Wakefield “has always been a great partner” and the school looks forward to continuing to work with Wakefield.
Northeast Metro Tech superintendent David DiBarri said that, at more than 50 years old, the school is “far beyond its useful life.” He cited a recent propane leak that closed the school for two days as an example of the school’s failing mechanical systems. He also noted that the school is poorly insulated and energy inefficient.
Many of the classrooms and shops are undersized, he said, and the building lacks elevators and is not handicapped accessible.
DiBarri also cited the single roadway access to the school as a potential problem if the school or the parking lot needed to be evacuated quickly in an emergency.
DiBarri introduced Charles Lyons, the school’s financial consultant.
Lyons said that the 26 vocational schools built in the state during the 1960s and 1970s are all coming of age. He said that Northeast Metro Tech looked at 40 different options, from renovation to new construction before the regional School Committee decided that keeping the present school open while constructing a new school was the best option.
He said that presently the school’s enrollment of about 1,200 students limits the number of students that the school can accept, resulting in a significant waiting list. The new school would be able to handle about 1,600 students.
Lyons noted that the the $317 million total price tag minus the $141 million from the state will leave the participating communities responsible for the remaining $176 million. For Wakefield, it would mean about $800,000 a year for 30 years.
Last year, Wakefield’s share of the Northeast Metro Tech operating budget was about $1.7 millon.
Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio noted that since Northeast has one of the most diverse student populations in the state, efforts are underway to secure a significant federal grant that could lower each community’s share of the construction costs substantially.
Lyons said that officials in the larger member communities of Revere, Malden and Chelsea have submitted letters in support of the school receiving the grant which could bring another $100 million toward the cost of the new school.
He noted that officials from the larger communities in the district have signed a letter making a case for the additional federal money.
Lyons said that the school would rather dedicate its efforts toward lowering each community’s share of the cost than campaign for election votes if one community’s Town Meeting or City Council were to reject the plan.