In their effort to get funding from the state to build a new high school, Watertown school officials toured a project in a town that was was successful in getting into the program.
This week, the School Committee voted to have Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald submit an application to the Massachusetts School Building Authority to renovate of rebuild Watertown High School.
To prepare for the application process, a number of School Committee members, school administrators and members of the town government went to Lexington’s Estabrook Elementary School to participate in the MSBA’s “Tale of a School” presentation.
The three-story school replaced a traditional one-story building, said School Committee Chairman John Portz.
School Committee member Kendra Foley said she had four major take aways from the presentation:
- Districts need to know who they serve and where they are looking to go as a district
- Districts need to be willing to make a strategic investments, both as district and as a community
- The community really needs strong teamwork between the town and the school district to make the project work – most projects include joint facilities between the school and town
- School design should be driven by teaching and learning in the classroom, not other way around
The district needs to include certain things in its plans, said School Committee member Elizabeth Yusem, but that should not stop officials from thinking big.
For instance, the building should be built so that all entrances can be seen from the administrative offices, Yusem said, so the school can monitor who is coming into the building.
The state also wants to see the district’s vision when they apply.
“One of the main take aways is to make sure you know who you are when you go in (to apply),” Yusem said. “Additionally, dream big because this is you opportunity to have a school facility that meets your needs. Dream for the future. Plan for next 50 years.”
The state provides a good chunk of money, about 48 percent of the cost, but the town will have to come up with millions of dollars, too.
Watertown voters have approved debt exclusions in the past to pay for school projects, including most recently $19.5 million for school improvements nearly 20 years ago.
School officials will again have to make the case to Watertown residents why they town needs money to improve the schools, said Town Council President Mark Sideris who also sits on the School Committee.
“The former debt exclusion comes off the rolls in fiscal 2018, which is not that far away,” Sideris said “We have to have a conversation with people who don’t have children in the classroom.”
If the MSBA accepts the project, the Town Council will have to ask voters for the rest of the funding almost immediately, Sideris said, so school officials need to start to lay the ground work.
“We need have discussion and have it quickly,” Sideris said. “If the MSBA says you’re in and community says we don’t want it. That is a problem.”