The design of the new Watertown High School got the endorsement of the Massachusetts School Building Authority on Wednesday.
Superintendent Dede Galdston sent out a letter saying that the MSBA Board of Directors unanimously supported moving the WHS project to the schematic design phase.
“At this time, the design team, the OPM, and the School Building Committee will prepare for the next big milestone, the Board approval of participation in our project,” Galdston said in a letter to school and town officials. “Over the coming months, the District and MSBA will establish and document the project scope, budget, schedule, and MSBA financial participation.”
Town Council President Mark Sideris, who chairs the School Building Committee, said the MSBA Board’s vote came after a lot of work by a variety of people.
“I am pleased that after all of the efforts of the School Building Committee, Ai3, Compass project management, and many members of the school administration, and working with the MSBA, that our schematic design proposal has been approved,” Sideris said. “All of us, together, will be working to get final design and approval for a first class high school that our kids and our community will be proud of for many years to come.”
Several designs were proposed for the new high school, including studies of putting it on Victory Field, but the School Building Committee decided that the school should remain on the current site. They did look seriously at building the school on both the current site and the site of the Phillips School and Senior Center (across the street from WHS). However, when the two-site design was presented to the MSBA’s Facilities Assessment Subcommittee in February 2021, Watertown officials were told to go back and make some alterations.
Designers from Ai3 Architects made some changes, including eliminating some classrooms, and removing facilities such as a new Senior Center, the district offices and the facilities department from the building. That way the building fit onto the current WHS site, between Common and Columbia streets. To build the school on that site without students occupying the building during construction, the School Building Committee approved the design of the new WHS in June which also includes plans to move students into a temporary school built at Moxley Field, next to Watertown Middle School.
The next time Watertown officials will be in front of the MSBA Board is expected to be in February 2022, when the board will vote on providing the state’s portion of the funding for the project.
Most communities pass a debt exclusion override, which increases property taxes temporarily, to cover their portion of the construction costs, but Galdston noted that Watertown will not need to do so. The estimated cost of the project is over $190 million, and Watertown is expected to get 40 percent or more of the cost reimbursed.
“Due to the generosity and support of the Town for educating Watertown’s children, the Board vote is the final step in the process to move forward to construction design and development, as it is currently the intention of the Town, based on the recommendation of the Town Manager, to fund the Town’s portion without a debt exclusion vote,” Galdston wrote. “We are grateful for this support and commitment to provide all of our high school students with the best educational environment possible. Our students deserve to have a modern facility that suits and supports our mission and vision.”
She thanked people who have worked on the high school project, including Sideris who represented Watertown at Wednesday’s meeting, and WHS Principal Joel Giacobozzi who also took part. She also thanked State Sen. Will Brownsberger and State Rep. Steve Owens for letters they wrote to the MSBA supporting the project.
To the School Committee, School Building Committee, architects, and school administrators, Galdston wrote: “And thank you to all of you for your support over the several years that this project has been underway, especially with the changes and shifts that were made over the past seven months.”
Find out more about the high school project at a community forum on Wednesday, Aug. 25 at 6 p.m. See more info about the meeting here.