Watertown High School Design Approved, Will Use Moxley Field for Temporary Location

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Ai3 Architects A rendering of what the new Watertown High School could look like. The view is from Common Street.

{Updated June 4, 2021 at 9 a.m. The name of the temporary high school was corrected to the PFC Richard Moxley Watertown High School.}

The proposal to build a new high school on the current Watertown High School location was approved Wednesday night, along with using Moxley Field as the temporary site for WHS during construction. School Building Committee members also supported naming the temporary campus for the Marine for whom the field is dedicated.

The Committee unanimously approved what is called plan 1H, which would create a single school building on the property between Common and Columbia streets. The project would cost an estimated $191.37 million, which architects said remains significantly less costly than other options, even with the increased cost related to making the school zero net energy (estimated to cost $7.9 million) and an increase in construction costs.

The cost of the 1H option would be about $49 million less ($34 million without the new Senior Center and district offices) than the original proposal, said James Jordan, an architect from Ai3 Architects.

The project will be jointly funded by the Town and the Massachusetts School Building Authority. In April, Town Manager Michael Driscoll told the Town Council that the Town would be able to pay for its portion of the project without a tax increase, which also means the Town would not have to hold an election to approve a debt exclusion override. The School Building Committee needed to vote Tuesday in order for designers to prepare submission of the project to the MSBA board by July 7 to get on the agenda for the August meeting, said Christy Murphy, from Watertown’s owner’s project manager firm, Compass. Construction is projected to start in June 2023.

School Building Committee member Paul Ansastasi liked many of the features of the new school, including the connections to the outdoors on the ground level, as well as on roof areas of some sections of the school.

“I love the way the option is starting to form. I love all the outdoor connections that we can have: dining outdoors, the gym that can connect to an outdoor space, the auditorium,” Anastasi said. “I would like to see an open air gym space out on the balcony, and I can see the chorus serenading the street below.” 

Jordan said the cost of the school includes efforts to make the new WHS produce as much energy as it consumes. This would be done with solar panels on the roof, as well as photovoltaic panels on the exterior of the building which would also serve as shades. Other methods of saving energy include using air source heat pumps and geothermal heating and cooling.

Obstacles on the Road to Approval

The WHS project faced some challenges, including being asked by state officials to redesign the original proposal in January, and then to find a swing space for students during the construction. The first design would have been on two properties on either side of Common Street, and the new academic building would have been constructed first to allow students to move over without swing space. The approved proposal reduced the size of the school, removed the new Senior Center and district offices, and fit on the current WHS site. That, however, meant finding a location for a temporary school site, and the architects settled on Moxley Field.

The spot has the advantages of giving access to classrooms and the small gym at next door Watertown Middle School, as well as, allowing the high school to make use of the WMS kitchen facilities. Neighbors said, however, that the area already gets congested with the Middle School traffic, and they would lose use of the playing field for approximately 4.5 years as the temporary classrooms and parking for about 120 cars are built, is used for 3 years and then taken down. The children’s play structure and the basketball and tennis courts would remain during the time that the high school occupies the athletic field.

Others objected to using the field that was named after Richard Moxley, the Watertown Marine killed in Vietnam in 1968.

Ai3 Architects A rendering of what a two-story modular building could look like on Moxley Field. It would be the temporary location for Watertown High School while a new school is constructed.

School Building Committee members said the Moxley Field location for the temporary high school is not perfect, but they believe it provides the best option. School Committee member Lindsay Mosca said that she wants to make sure that the students attending the high school during the construction of the new one get the best education possible.

“One thing as a School Committee member in town, as a public educator as a career, as a parent of children in the schools and a citizen of Watertown, I am unwilling to compromise on the educational program of students in the school and the ones that will be experiencing construction at the school,” Mosca said.

The School Building Committee postponed its vote on the new high school design and using Moxley Field by two months after objections were raised by neighbors and other residents. Architects have explored looking at putting the campus made of modular classrooms on other locations in Watertown, but decided Moxley provided the best option, said School Committee Chair John Portz.

“After looking at many, many other sites, we’ve ended up at Moxley Field,” Portz said. “Certainly, I understand it is not perfect by any means — there is no site that is — but I think there has been a real commitment on part of the Building Committee, the Town and the School Department to try to make this the best for everyone.”

Some ideas being explored to reduce the impact of traffic on the streets around Moxley Field include busing students to both WHS and WMS and staggering the start time of the middle school and high school.

A recent suggestion to look at moving the high school to the old Hosmer School building was discussed at Wednesday’s meeting. Superintendent Dede Galdston said it would lack some of the facilities that would be available if Moxley was used, including space for the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program, the gym, access to an auditorium, and a kitchen facility big enough to provide meals for both schools. In addition, the new Hosmer includes the district’s new Early Childhood Center for Watertown’s preschool and PreK programs. Previously those programs were spread around the district.

“I appreciate on the face of it, it seems like a good option, but when you look at what it is we can do at Moxley/WMS it’s just not even close to the opportunity we can provide the kids at Moxley,” Galdston said. “We absolutely cannot limit the opportunities for the children of Watertown for the three years they are in swing space.”

Town Council President Mark Sideris, chair of the Building Committee, said he has repeatedly mentioned that the Building for the Future effort (which also includes two new elementary schools and renovating a third) would be a shared sacrifice. He said having the high school at Hosmer would mean that area would have school construction for 8-10 years, “Which in my mind is not a shared sacrifice.”

Veteran to be Honored

PFC Richard Moxley, of Watertown, who was killed in Vietnam in 1968. The field next to Watertown Middle School was dedicated to him.

The idea of using the field named for a Marine killed in action during the Vietnam War upset many people. The School Building Committee received a letter from one of the last relatives of PFC Richard Moxley, who expressed dismay that the field named for his uncle would be torn up and become the site of a school and parking lot.

Moxley grew up in Watertown on Quincy Street, and attended St. Patrick’s High School. He left UMass to join the Marines Corps in 1967, and died in a firefight on Aug. 29, 1968 in the Quang Nam province.

Some veterans, including the leadership of Watertown’s veterans groups, supported using the field as the temporary site for WHS, saying they wanted to see what was best for the children of Watertown.

At a community meeting on the high school project, which included discussion of using the field, Watertown Veterans Services Officer Patrick George suggested that something be done to honor Moxley while the school is at the site, such as naming the temporary school after him. Members of the School Building Committee said they liked that idea, including Anastasi.

“Naming the building, the temporary building with PFC Moxley on it somehow, I think that is a great idea,” Anastasi said.

Sideris proposed having the School Building Committee request that the School Committee name the temporary school “Private First Class Richard Moxley Watertown High School.” That request was unanimously approved by the Building Committee.

Steve Magoon, Assistant Town Manager and director of the Department of Community Development and Planning, said the Town also needs to make sure the property is turned back into a quality playing field when the temporary high school is gone.

“For me, I put a lot of weight on the letter from one of his descendants expressing concern about the field dedicated to his memory,” Magoon said. “I think, for me, it makes sense that we commit, when the project wraps up, to do a really great job renovating that field and making something that would be a really wonderful tribute to him and his sacrifices.”

School officials were asked if something would be done to teach students about Moxley, as part of a tribute to him. WHS Principal Joel Giacobozzi said, “We are happy to have the coordinator of our history curriculum incorporate Private First Class Moxley’s life and legacy into the curriculum.”

6 thoughts on “Watertown High School Design Approved, Will Use Moxley Field for Temporary Location

  1. Excellent news. The temporary school should absolutely be named after Richard Moxley! A great tribute and a perfect response to the phony issue raised by a few (well, mostly one) about disrespecting veterans by choosing this swing space.

  2. Naming an ugly, modular, temporary structure after a Vietnam hero is a great idea? Really? I never thought much of Sideris but this is just his way to pander to people and gain some level of support in the worst possible way. No wonder he couldn’t get elected to a state office! If the town is going to use Moxley field in a way that it was never intended for, at least name the new high school in Private Moxley’s honor.

  3. This is not good news. Rebuilding the high school at the current location is a safety issue for the students. The current location is one of the busiest intersections in Watertown. Many students have almost been hit by cars and a few have been hit. It make sense to move the DPW to the old Sterritt Lumber location and build a new high school on Orchard st. The town council has made yet another poor decision that will cost the taxpayers more money. You can’t have people who run our town work day jobs and also try to run our town and this is why we need a mayor. The people of Watertown need to speak up and stop this from happening. Just like we didn’t rebuild the police station at the old location we should not rebuild a new high school at that current location.

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