133WVN Newsletter #131: new look at high school project
- Dec 14, 2005Dear Wayland voter,
A reminder: the Finance Committee holds an important hearing
at 7 p.m Thursday at the Town Building as it wrestles with a
budget shortfall in the 2007 fiscal year estimated at more than
Meanwhile, the High School Building Committee is discussing
how to proceed with another proposal for rebuilding or repairing
the Wayland High School campus.
HIGH SCHOOL BUILDING COMMITTEE PONDERS NEXT
Meeting on Dec. 8 for the first time since summer, the High
School Building Committee discussed its own credibility and
future as it studied an accreditation report calling for physical
improvements at Wayland High School.
Stung by harsh criticism of the committee and its $57-million
rebuilding plan which voters rejected in January, some
members suggested adding new colleagues with diverse views
and asking the parent School Committee to redefine the HSBC's
If the committee has such low credibility, member Eric Sheffels
said, the School Committee should do something about it.
Further discussion is planned.
A survey mailed to 7,921 voters last summer drew 2,075
responses. The results lack statistical validity since they
represent only those who chose to reply. The 26 percent who
responded were reasonably representative of Wayland
demographics and often strongly opinionated.
Of those who said they voted against the project, 90 percent
were critical of the committee. Of those who said they voted yes,
nearly the same percentage approved of the committee.
Chairwoman Lea Anderson acknowledged "some pretty brutal
remarks" from critics. It's not uncommon for voters to reject the
authors of a proposal they dislike.
Mast survey respondents agreed that high-quality education,
academic spaces and health and safety concerns are important.
But they diverged on the size, scope and cost of proposed
changes. Some who said they could afford the consequent tax
increase still found the price tag too high.
Some School Committee members have expressed the hope
that when reimbursement questions are answered voters might
approve the full project. Survey respondents, though, said that
size and scope were bigger concerns than reimbursement.
"People really weren't sold on the idea" of a rebuilt campus, said
committee member Dianne Bladon, who directed the survey.
She suggested that voters may not have understood the cost of
the project. But she acknowledged that voters may have
disbelieved estimates issued by the HSBC and the School
Committee. When voters rejected a $4.2 million allocation to
design the project, there were fresh memories of the Public
Safety Building, which came\ in behind schedule and over
budget and was sometimes called the White Elephant.
The School Committee initially assured voters that the state
would share the cost of rebuilding as in the past, even though
the reimbursement system had changed. The committee
backed away from that position but continued to say that
reimbursement was a good possibility, even after the new head
of the Massachusetts School Building Authority warned in an
interview with WVN that any town undertaking a project at that
time should be prepared to shoulder the entire cost.
The committee is considering its next steps as the High School
prepares its response to an October evaluation by the New
England Association of Schools and Colleges. Principal Charlie
Ruopp explained the evaluation, which began with the school
studying itself in 2002. If action isn't taken, he said, the school
risks a warning, followed by probation and eventually loss of
Virtually all schools in New England choose to be accredited.
Loss of accreditation is rare, though Beverly faces just such a
decision soon. The NEASC looks for good-faith effort at progress
over a period that can last several years, he said.
Accreditation is not a governmental inspection, but rather a
periodic evaluation by a corporation comprising professional
educators. An NEASC group visits a school for a relatively short
time and typically issues a weighty report dependent to a great
extent on the schools' self-study findings.
The report praises many things about Wayland High School but
calls for physical improvements, some of which the school had
used as a rationale for a rebuilt campus.
For example, when the school submits a progress report next
April 1 it must address 13 items including "a common space for
whole-school assemblies and sufficient seating for
performances and theatrical events." Such an auditorium is not a
requirement for accreditation but was an expensive and
controversial goal of the rebuilding project. The field house now
on the campus was meant to serve as a common assembly
In contrast, Ruopp said, health and safety matters are not
negotiable. This could be where the NEASC, the voters and
school officials might look for areas of agreement.
Despite renovations in the 1990s, which officials billed as good
for a generation, the campus doesn't meet current building
standards. Superintendent Gary Burton estimated that bringing
the buildings up to code could cost $12 million.
Building a new campus as conceived by HMFH Architects for the
HSBC, after waiting for state reimbursement approval, is now
estimated at more than $80 million because of inflation. The
state could contribute significantly, though new reimbursement
standards won't be known until next year.
When Massachusetts' generous reimbursement system ran dry,
a moratorium was declared while more stringent procedures
are prepared. When the state begins accepting new applications
on July 1, 2007, the state will play a much larger role in
evaluating applications. State inspectors are scheduled to look
for health and safety problems at every school building in
There may be many applications because towns and cities have
been waiting for the new reimbursement system. The HSBC has
about $20,000 remaining from $355,000 appropriated by voters,
and believes that money could go toward an application.
The state plans to award $500 million in the first year and
increase the total in future years. Grants may depend on clearing
a backlog owed to cities and towns for projects approved under
the former system.
-- Michael Short
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Michael Short, Editor