Architects Examining Possible Spots for New Watertown High School

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Ai3 Architects

Designers showed a mockup of a new school building that could fit on the current Watertown High School site.

Designers showed a mockup of a new school building that could fit on the current Watertown High School site.

One of the biggest questions with the project to rebuild or renovate Watertown High School is where the building will be located.

Wednesday night, project architect Scott Dunlap, of Ai3 Architects, presented some of the options to the School Building Committee, along with some of the pros and cons of each site.

“The challenge of the Building Committee over the next three months is not to decide on the design of the high school, or even pick a location, but to identify which sites would be viable for consideration,” Dunlap said.

The three main sites being examined are the current high school site, the combined Victory Field complex/Department of Public Works Facility, and Moxley Field.

Current Site

The current site has about 5.1 acres of space, and could be combined with the property across Common Street — the former Phillips Building.

Since there is no obvious site to move students to during a construction project at the current location, one of the biggest challenges for that site would be doing a phased construction with an occupied school, Dunlap said.

He told the School Building Committee that it would be possible. The gym, added in the 1980s, has its own utility connections, and could be demolished while the main building facing Common Street is occupied. The 1950s addition next to the parking lot could also be removed to make room for the construction of the new school.

One of the challenges of a phased construction is dealing with the hazardous materials, including asbestos, in the current high school building, Dunlap said.

Dunlap presented a drawing with a mockup of a school building, just to show it was possible to fit a new school on the property. It would have a four-story main academic building that would be built on the space where the current gym and the 1950s addition are located. In the mockup new a gym and and new auditorium would be built on the land where the main part of the building now sits.

The topography of the site could allow for one floor of underground parking at the current site, Dunlap said. Parking is a challenge at WHS, currently.

The former Phillips School could also be part of the new Watertown High School. On the left is an aerial view of the current site, and on the right is a drawing showing an example of what could fit on the properties.

If the old Philips School building comes into play, it could be the location of a building that includes the gym and fitness areas, as well as the auditorium and music programs, Dunlap said. The main academic building would be located on the current site.

School Committee Chair John Portz asked if a bridge could be built across Common Street to link the two buildings.

Dunlap said: “If we build the school on both sides (of Common Street) it is highly likely we would have an elevated, enclosed walkway.”

The project is part of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) program, which provides reimbursement of close to half the cost. State officials require districts to look at the possibility of renovating most of the school and making minor additions, as well as, tearing down most of the school but keeping part of the original campus. Dunlap said his firm will put together plans for these scenarios to show the cost and what kind of school it would produce. He added, that the layout of the current school poses challenges for providing a 21st Century education.

Victory Field/DPW Facility

A new Watertown High School could fit on the Department of Public Works site combined with the Victory Field football and baseball fields. The building is the same mockup as the one that fits on the current high school site.

If the new high school was built on the DPW/Victory Field site, it would unite the school with the athletic facilities, which is one of the drawbacks of the current setup.

However, Dunlap said that building a school on one of the current fields would negate that advantage. The current high school site is big enough for a full-sized football or soccer field, but would not have room for a track or bleachers, Dunlap said.

Finding a new home for the DPW could be a challenge, Dunlap said, and the surrounding neighborhoods would feel the impact of a high school being placed in their area.

When looking at the DPW parcel, it also includes a section of the hill above it. Dunlap said it is steep, but could be excavated to make room for parking. Council Vice President Vincent Piccirilli said that several years ago, that section was rezoned to be park land, and is under the control of the Conservation Commission. In order to turn it back into land that could be used for the school, the rezoning would have to be approved by two-thirds of both houses of the State Legislature, Piccirilli said.

Another option showing the new Watertown High School on the football/baseball field area of Victory Field. It would not use the DPW Facility (to the left of the school). Officials say finding a new location for the Department of Public Works could be challenging.

Designers used the same mockup they made for the current site and superimposed it in different locations on the DPW, and on the Victory Field Complex.

If the longer side of the building faced Orchard street, the school would fit on the combined sites of the current DPW and Victory Field football and baseball fields. Another option would be to save the DPW, and put the short side of the high school facing Orchard Street with the building going on the current football/baseball fields. The parking area could go on the current location of the tennis courts.

Moxley Field

Mosley Field is 4.88 acres, close to the size of the current WHS site, so Dunlap said it would be big enough to build the same mockup high school that fits on the current High School site.

The land has no school or other large buildings on it, currently, however it is right next to Watertown Middle School. The field also serves as the outdoor space for the middle school, and is recreation space for the neighborhood.

“We would have to find something in this part of town to replace the open space,” Dunlap said.

A new Watertown High School could fit on Moxley Field, which is slightly smaller than the current WHS site. On the left is an aerial view of the current site, and on the right a mockup using the same example building that fits on the WHS site.

Traffic would also be a challenge, with two large schools next to each other.

Director of Public Facilities Lori Kabel asked whether the middle school could move to the current high school site if WHS is built on Moxley Field.

“The middle school site could become recreation fields, or a football field, and we could keep Victory Field,” Kabel said. “I know it is long term.”

Piccirilli said that the recently completed window replacement at the middle school was partially paid for by the MSBA, and one of the requirements is to use the building as a school for at least 20 years.

Other Possible Sites

School Building Committee member Kelly Kurlbaum asked whether the 6-acre site being sold or leased by Mount Auburn Cemetery has been considered for the high school.

Town Council President Mark Sideris said he and Dunlap took a drive down there, and found there are challenges.

Dunlap said only about 4 acres of the site would currently be buildable, while other parts would need to be regraded.

The cost would also be a hurdle, Sideris said.

“The original asking price was $25 million,” Sideris said. “My understanding is it will go for significantly more than that.”

The price of land in Watertown would make it hard to use land not already owned by the town, Dunlap said.

“Because land is so limited in Watertown, it goes for $4 million to $10 million an acre,” Dunlap said. “We have never seen numbers like that, but we have never worked in a town so small and so close to Boston.”

14 thoughts on “Architects Examining Possible Spots for New Watertown High School

  1. It seems that the land that the cemetery is selling could be purchased by selling other land that Watertown Now owns. Mosley Field is 4.88 acres and because of it’s location should be of more value than the land for sale by Mt. Auburn Cemetery.

    • The Arsenal Park and Mall area is a terrible idea for a HS or anything for children. It’s questionable in my opinion due to years of corporate and military use????? My opinion is that land has always been off and developing children shouldn’t spend all day long there. As a kid in the 1980’s it was common knowledge in passing conversations that something was wrong there. I don’t care what tests the Arsenal Development Corp and town shows you. That area is known by natives to be contaminated. Let Harvard and Hedge funds develop the land and pay taxes. Keep the HS in the overwhelming best area of the town and safest section for the children.

  2. Sell moxley land and buy mt Auburn cemetery land.
    FORTY years ago they should have built high school where Arsenal Mall is. DONT miss another opportunity. Think outside the box ..

  3. All of the road construction around the current high school being done for the school, road bump outs, new traffic signal, changing the Spring St traffic flow, etc. and now the school may move?? After forever changing the traffic in the neighborhood. Another example of our town leadership not planning or thinking long term with decisions. Please take this into consideration with decisions to relocate.

    • The re-design of common street has nothing to do with the school. It has to do with a 5 way intersection being extremely unsafe and was design and built with the help of MA DOT. Please know your facts before making an untrue statement.

      • The comment doesn’t mention anything about the five way intersection you speak of (the rotary). It only mentions the redesign of Spring St, adding a new traffic light for the school and extending sidewalks and the termed “road diets” around the school. Maybe you should read exactly what a comment says before jumping to conclusions about the “controversial” rotary.

  4. The town blew this with bad decisions on land over the past 20 years. Inept town councilors and Driscoll scaring the pants out of everyone so he could remain “fiscally responsible” and make things easier on himself. What a mess that is hitting the fan right now. A joke.

  5. You don’t just sell a public park/recreation area. In addition to the Middle School, thousands of residents in this area use it, and have been involved and patiently waiting for the final design and rehab of this public facility.

    If I had any say, because of the sparsity of options, the rebuilding of the high school on the present site – admittedly challenging – is the best of the lot. Obliterating Moxley in an already densely-developed part of town would be an unforced error that would remove, permanently, vital open space.

    • If Moxley is used as a HS site, then the current HS site would be returned to be open space. It would be an equal swap.

      • I would hope that if the town decided to move the high school to the Moxley Field that they would not take a prime real estate spot like the location of the current high school and make it green space. I would also hope that the area be treated like every other area in town and that no preferential treatment is given to the neighborhood.

        The current high school location is perfect for housing, businesses, etc especially given how close it is to public transportation. Maybe even mixed use with stores on the first floor and housing on the second. It’s also ideal for the town to consider making that an affordable/low income housing building similar to the one on Waverley Avenue across from the middle school.

        And absolutely agree with some of the other comments that as a town we failed miserably in long term planning, especially when it comes to public education.

      • for this neighborhood, this would be losing their local park and green space , the same goes for any portion of the natural green space of Victory field park oval area. I would vote for no green space to be taken away from any neighborhood also there many other issues with both the Dpw and Moxley sites.

  6. Move the DPW out of Orchard st. to Grove st and put the highschool on Orchard st next to Victory field. The DPW needs more space than what they have at Orchard st. Also the DPW should not be in a residential area. This is the long term solution and the cost could be absorbed into the highschool project. Once the new highschool is in place the town can sell the land where the present highschool is to offset some of the cost.

  7. The siting of the new high school presents a multitude of issues that will need to be addressed in the coming months. I do not believe that placing any buildings on Victory Field would benefit the majority of citizens of Watertown. Victory Field is over tens acres of passive and active recreation, it is our third largest park. Together with Whitney Hill there are over 21 acres of open space, making it the largest contiguous open space public area in the Town. In a town with not enough green/open space we should not even consider reducing it.
    Victory Field was dedicated in 1921, however it has been a field since the 1890s. For over 120 years our residents have enjoyed Victory Field. Let’s keep it as open/green space so all can still enjoy it.

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