December 28, 2016
By GAYLA CAWLEY
SWAMPSCOTT — School officials are seeking state support for one or several new school buildings in Swampscott.
Suzanne Wright, a member of the school committee, said town officials plan on submitting a statement of intent to the Massachusetts School Building Authority by the April deadline. Superintendent Pamela Angelakis is leading a task force devoted to planning new schools.
“The statement of interest would just have to say we need a new elementary or middle school,” Wright said.
Wright said there would likely be statements of interest for both. She said there are more than 20 options being floated around by members of the task force.
Some options could include building a new elementary school to replace Hadley School, building a consolidated elementary school to replace the three operating ones, or building a new middle school because the current one has issues, Wright said.
Wright said the superintendent and her leadership team have deemed that a consolidated K-5 model is the best option. Another option would be a consolidated elementary school, with one building for K-2 and another for grades 3-5. But she said more buildings mean more difficulty in receiving MSBA funding.
“We’re going to submit to the MSBA because we need a new school, but what we get approved for is sort of out of our hands,” Wright said. “Right now, it’s like throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks.”
New facilities are needed and aging infrastructure in existing buildings needs to be fixed, Wright said. Collectively, the elementary schools are older, but the middle school has space issues.
Wright said the effort started after the failed Town Meeting vote in 2014 for a consolidated elementary school on the site of Swampscott Middle School on Forest Avenue. A task force was put together, made up of people for and against the new school, and the intent was always to put another statement of interest in.
In July 2014, the MSBA gave final approval for a district-wide elementary school in Swampscott. The plans included building a new school for grades 1-4 on land adjacent to the middle school. Clarke School would have been converted to house pre-kindergarten to kindergarten. Stanley School would have been demolished with the land converted to athletic fields and playgrounds. The proposed project cost $52.6 million, and the town would have been responsible for approximately $35 million.
The proposal had to pass two votes, a two-thirds majority at Town Meeting, and a town-wide ballot vote requiring a simple majority. Town Meeting voted 140-98 in favor of the school in October 2014, falling short of the two-thirds majority. The school was rejected by more than 2,500 votes on the ballot initiative that year.
Wright said the previous effort for a consolidated school may have failed because of the change in superintendent leadership, as the statement of interest was submitted by Angelakis’ predecessor. Another contributing factor could have been that the school would have been on the Forest Avenue site along with the current middle school, which would have caused congested traffic and reduced outdoor play space.
With 20 options on the table, Wright said a consolidated elementary school is still a favorite. She said the superintendent has been educating the school district on some of the benefits, including the cost-effectiveness of consolidation.
If the statement of interest is approved by the MSBA, Wright said Town Meeting would have to approve funding for a feasibility study for officials to look at sites that would be viable for the new school or schools. Once the study is completed, architects would be hired to design the building, and then Town Meeting would have to approve funding the school. A ballot vote would also be needed for the project.
“If we get the statement of intent approved, we’re in a much better position to move forward than we were last time,” Wright said.
Angelakis was unavailable for comment.
Gayla Cawley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.