A celebration many years in the making took place in Watertown Thursday to mark the beginning of the creation of an asset that will last for generations: the new Watertown High School.
Superintendent Dede Galdton said she recalls the wheels already being in motion when she arrived in the district in 2017 when she was told the goal was to build a new, state-of-the-art high school, along with three elementary schools.
“We are just so excited to begin the work, not that the work hasn’t been going on for the last five or six years, but the actual demolition and rebuilding of this beautiful place,” Galdston said.
The new school will be built on the same spot as the old school. Work has already started to prepare for the demolition of the old building, parts of which date back to the 1920s. The windows have been removed, and the foundation has already started being constructed in a trench dug right next to Columbia Street.
Watertown’s new high school is scheduled to open in the fall of 2026, and will be one of a kind, said City Council President Mark Sideris.
“Watertown has been a leader in addressing climate change on a number of different fronts, and we’ve led on a few things,” he said. “I want to touch on one thing here. Watertown High School is going to be the first LEED 4.0 Platinum certified, zero net energy school in the United States.”
Sideris thanked resident Jolly Tager for continuing to advocate for the school to be as green as possible. As the new school has been under design, Sideris has been saying that WHS would be the second such school, but Jim Jordan from Ai3 Architects did some research and found that there are two schools in Washington, D.C. that are under construction now. Sideris said, however, it has not been confirmed that those schools will meet net zero or be LEED Zero Energy certified.
Many people and groups worked to get to the groundbreaking, said Deputy City Manager Emily Monea, from the School Building Committee, to the City Council, to the designers — Ai3 Architects, the owner’s project manager — Vertex, the contractor — Brait Builders, the City administration, including the Public Buildings Department.
“I think everyone has just worked together to achieve one goal, which is excellence for our students, and it is just a really an exciting moment,” said Monea, who represented City Manager George Proakis while he was at a conference.
It took more than 200 meetings of the School Building Committee to get to the groundbreaking, Sideris estimated. He thanked Watertown’s State House delegation — State Reps. John Lawn and Steve Owens, and State Sen. Will Brownsberger — for their support of the project, and the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for overseeing and providing about $50 million in funding for the $220 million project. They have also secured additional funds to make up for some of the cost escalation due to the Pandemic and inflation.
Lawn looked back at the very start of the work at the state level to get the new school approved.
“I remember in 2016 these conversations started at the State House, Rep. (Jonathan) Hecht also was very involved in getting this off the ground so I want to acknowledge him,” Lawn said. “The whole MSBA team has been a great partner, Jack McCarthy who has retired was a great friend to Watertown gave us so much great advice out of the gate, we are really thankful, and Matt Donavan at the MSBA who was another terrific partner and helped provide so much critical advice early on.”
He also said that former City Manager Michael Driscoll deserves a lot of credit for putting the City in such a strong financial situation.
“He really put this community on a path to build three grammar schools without going to the MSBA which is unheard of in the state,” Lawn said. “And to do this project within the confines of (Proposition) 2 1/2 without an override is just really incredible.”
Brownsberger admired the leadership in Watertown that made the project a reality.
“Not every place, not every town, not even every place in the Commonwealth is blessed with the kind of leadership that this town has, from the City council President to the School Committee Chair, to the leadership team and the town administrator, this town is really very, very fortunate, — all the City Councilors are just qual people who can actually work together to get things done,” he said.
He added that the MSBA is an example of something at the State level that “is doing what it is supposed to and functions incredibly effectively.”
Owens added appreciation to a group of people for their cooperation during the construction.
“Thank you to the people of Watertown, but I also want to thank one group that haven’t been thanked yet, and those are the students, who are now in the Moxley High School,” Owens said. “So thank you all for the couple of years that you are going to be spending over there. I know it’s not the most convenient place. I have an 11th grader there now.”
WHS Principal Joel Giacobozzi echoed the thanks to the students, who he said have risen to the occasion, including the members of the Watertown High School Band who serenaded those gathered for the groundbreaking ceremony.
“They’re just some of our students but they show an excitement that is buzzing in our building right now,” Giacobozzi said. “And as disparate as our campus is right now there is a buzz of excitement for this new building.”
He added that the new school will be an innovative school that fits a city that has become a place of innovation with the influx of research and development companies.
Galdston said the new building will also help the Watertown Public Schools reach one of its core values.
“The design of the building is all about building community, not just about academic communities, but our spirit of our schools and equity and make sure that all our students have every opportunity they can to be successful and have all the opportunities they need to be truly great people as the move on out of the high school,” she said.
MSBA CEO James MacDonald congratulated Watertown on reaching the moment that construction of the new school can begin. He quoted former Salt Lake City Tribune writer, Dan Valentine, who was also a veteran and is now buried in Arlington Cemetery.
“He was quite a writer out in Salt Lake City and he once wrote, that ‘a school is a building that has four walls with tomorrow inside,'” MacDonald said. “And I will tell you we at the MSBA are so proud to be part of Watertown’s tomorrow.”