Watertown School officials will look at busing students to the temporary high school and the middle school if modulars are built on Moxley Field, the School Building Committee heard at its meeting on Wednesday.
Designers of the new Watertown High School, and the temporary campus, responded to a petition submitted by neighbors of the area near Moxley Field, addressing all the questions raised including: traffic issues, issues with tearing up the field dedicated to a Watertown Marine, stormwater issues and others. See the slide presentation from the meeting by clicking here.
School Officials reiterated that Moxley Field’s proximity to Watertown Middle School provides benefits that other spaces in Town would not, including access to a dedicated gym, sharing an auditorium and kitchen, and space for the Career and Technical Education programs in the ground floor of the old West Junior High School on the southside of WMS.
Superintendent Dede Galdston said her goal is to provide the best educational experience for WHS students in their temporary home.
“What Principal (Joel) Giacobozzi and I are most concerned about is that students’ experiences not be limited by the swing space we choose for the three years of construction,” Galdston said. “We really believe that the proposed swing space (at Moxley) meets the needs of the students in a way more beneficial than (the school) they are currently in.”
Galdston said she has heard concerns that the high school students would be intermingling with the middle schoolers in the hallways, but she said for the most part that they would be separate campuses. There would be times when the high school would use the WMS auditorium, and WHS Principal Joel Giacobozzi said that could be an opportunity for WHS students to mentor middle school students or allow WMS students to watch high schoolers perform.
Only two classrooms in the area identified to be used by the high school are used by the middle school now. There are also some programs and offices that would need to move, but Galdston said there would be space in the middle school to accommodate them.
While WHS students would use the temporary school for three years, the field would be impacted for 4.5 years, according to designers from Ai3 Architects.
Among the list of the 13 concerns in the petition signed by more than 140 people, traffic was a significant concern, with not just one but two large schools located right next to each other.
Currently, parents drop off and pick up at Watertown Middle School on Bemis Street, which runs from Waverley Avenue and Westminster Avenue between the middle school and Moxley Field. Original plans for the temporary high school would have parents do drop offs and pickups on the eastside of Westminster Avenue. Neighbors expressed concern about the amount of traffic that would bring to the residential area, and for double the amount of time than with just the middle school.
School officials plan to stagger the starting time of the two schools, likely pushing the middle school start 45 minutes earlier. One of the reasons for that amount of time was to allow the traffic from pickup and drop off to clear, said Amy Archer, a traffic engineer used by Ai3.
To reduce the number of vehicles coming to the area, School officials are looking at using seven buses for high school students who live 0.75 miles or more from the school, and six for middle school students living that distance away. Officials estimate that about 770 students would be eligible to ride the school bus.
“That represents about 60 percent of the middle school and high school population,” Archer said.
There would be separate runs for the middle school and the high school, Galdston said. The buses for the high school would drop students off on the eastside of Westminster Avenue, right next to the school, and the middle school buses would use the driveway in front of the school on Waverley Avenue.
Changes to traffic patterns, and even signage, is being explored, Archer said. Some ideas include having traffic coming along Bemis Street turn right on Westminster if they are heading north, and continue on Bemis to Lexington Street to head south and get onto Main Street. That would prevent cars turning left on Westminster to go to Main Street.
Archer said there is currently a stop sign on Bemis at Edenfield Avenue, but none on Edenfield. Another possible change would be to move the stop signs onto Edenfield to allow traffic to flow freely on Bemis to Lexington Street. Because it would be a major change to that intersection, Archer said flashing stop signs could be used to alert drivers to the change.
Veterans Groups Weigh In
Moxley Field is dedicated to Private Richard Moxley, a Marine from Watertown killed in Vietnam. Some residents opposed the use of the field for the temporary high school site because it would tear up the field named for a veteran.
Jim Jordan, project architect from Ai3, read a letter from Watertown Veterans Agent Patrick George on that matter.
“He contacted the leadership of every veterans organization in town and they do not believe it would be disrespectful to place the temporary high school on Moxley Field,” Jordan said. “In fact, they look forward to a beautiful new rededicated field once the projects have all been completed.”
Jordan read a section of George’s email that said: “The veterans groups are supportive of any efforts made to ensure the highest quality of education for the students of Watertown.”
Storm Water, Impact on Charles
What the temporary school would do to stormwater in the area, and to water draining into the Charles River also rose as a concern.
Jordan said the field currently can flood properties to the south of it because the current storm drain is not large enough for the water draining from the field.
The project, even for a temporary school, would require stormwater improvements due to state and local regulations. They could add stormwater features that would store water underground so it slowly percolates into the soil, rather than going into the storm drain.
“If the proposed stormwater mitigation is installed it could remain in place after the field is restored,” Jordan said.
By removing stormwater from the storm drain system, it would also reduce the amount of pollutants in the water from going into the Charles River, Jordan said, because storm drains ultimately drain into the river.
A presentation on the temporary high school site, as well as the plans to build a new Watertown High School will be presented at a Community Forum on Wednesday, May 26, at 6 p.m. Parents and residents will also have an opportunity to comment and ask questions at the meeting. Click here for the link to the meeting agenda and information in the days before the meeting.
The project will be on the agenda for a vote on the June 2 School Building Committee meeting, said Mark Sideris, Town Council President who is chair of the Building Committee. For more information about the WHS project click here.