ARTIST’S RENDERING of the proposed new high school.


WAKEFIELD — Tomorrow morning at 9 a.m., Wakefield voters will gather by the hundreds at the field house at Wakefield Memorial High School. The Special Town meeting represents the next step in determining whether the town will build a new high school at a cost of $274 million.

If at least two-thirds of the voters at tomorrow’s Special Town Meeting vote “Yes,” the question will go to a Special Election, most likely on March 11.

The tax impact of the proposed new high school on the average priced home in Wakefield has been estimated at between $1,200 and $1,300 per year in additional taxes for most of the term of the 30-year bond for the school.

Advocates for building a new high school claim that the current building envelope is deteriorated, leaking and uninsulated. Mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire suppression systems are overdue for replacement, they maintain, and the entire roof is failing and due for replacement.

They insist that safety and security systems and hardware are in need of updating and the facility contains numerous conditions that make it inaccessible and of out of compliance the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The condition of the school’s educational space is an obstacle to teaching and learning, they contend, pointing to overcrowded and undersized classrooms, science facilities that are inadequate and lack ventilation for chemistry, and a building layout that is a barrier to interdisciplinary, project-based and differentiated learning.

They note that the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) placed WMHS on “Probation” in March 2019.

Advocates say that the reason the project will be so expensive for local taxpayers is due to escalating construction costs and the fact the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) reimbursement rate has not kept up with increasing costs. (The MSBA partners with Massachusetts communities to support the design and construction of public school facilities.)

Supporters argue that if the current plan is not approved, solving the problems will only cost more in the future and the town will have to wait years to get back into the MSBA funding program.

Opponents recognize that the current high school building has problems but they insist that the solving them does not require building a new school at a price tag of $274 million.

They say that the cost of nearly $1,300 a year to the average homeowner for the next 30 years is an excessive burden, especially given that local taxpayers are still paying for the Galvin Middle School and will soon see their taxes increase to pay for the new Northeast Metro Tech.

Critics maintain that the new high school plan includes many costly features that fall outside what the MSBA considers eligible for reimbursement. They point out that even before recent construction cost escalation caused the price tag to balloon, the school was already estimated to cost nearly a quarter of a billion dollars.

Opponents point out that the very same economic pressures that are driving up the cost of a new high school are also hurting the working families of Wakefield and limiting their ability to pay more in taxes.

After being rejected for three years in a row, the town learned in December of 2019 that the MSBA Board of Directors had voted to invite Wakefield Memorial High School into the MSBA’s Eligibility Period.

In November 2020, Town Meeting voted to approve $2 million for a feasibility study for the reconstruction of the high school.

In the spring of 2021, project management firm LeftField was chosen by the Permanent Building Committee to serve as Owner’s Project Manager (OPM) for the WMHS building project. An OPM works as a consultant on behalf of the town through the completion of the project and must be completely independent from the designer, general contractor and any sub-contractors involved in the project at all times.

In August of 2021, the firm of Symmes, Maini & McKee Associates, Inc. (SMMA) of Boston was selected as the designer for the new Wakefield Memorial High School Building Project.

BOND Building was selected in August 2022 as the construction firm that will build a proposed new Wakefield Memorial High School.

In October, new cost estimates placed the total project cost at $273.7 million, up from earlier estimates of $220 million.

In December, the MSBA board of Directors agreed to a funding plan under which the MSBA would pick up approximately $65 million of the project cost, leaving Wakefield taxpayers responsible for $208 million.