SELECTING THE RIGHT SITE FOR WHS
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Is the current Winchester high school location the best site for the future of Winchester High School (WHS)? We believe the answer is “yes”!
The decision to reuse the existing high school followed a rigorous study of potential sites and plans, and is supported by positive outcomes in terms of cost, time to completion, educational needs and community goals.
The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) required Winchester to evaluate 12 potential locations. (See the full list of sites and their parameters at winchesterhsproject.com.)
Only four of the sites satisfied the minimum acreage, including facilities, playing fields, and parking:
1. Ciarcia Field (Skillings Road). On the opposite side of the train tracks from the present high school, this site would have assumed new construction of a school building and demolition of the current building for playing field space.
Since the Ciarcia site is in the flood plain, construction could not occur there until certain flood mitigation measures are completed, some dependent on neighboring communities. A construction delay of four to six years would escalate costs and extend overcrowding pressures.
2. Wright-Locke Farm. By acreage, WLF appears to offer sufficient space for a school, taking into account the playing fields across the street.
However, the lease of a portion of the land to the WLF Conservancy until 2041, together with challenging topography leaves so little space for cost-effective construction that this site is not a viable alternative.
3. Town Forest. Preliminary designs were developed for new construction on this site on the Winchester/Medford line, far from the Town Center and without public utilities.
The Forest was given to the Town with charitable restrictions, so Winchester would be required to pursue permission to rezone the parcel, as well as assemble other public land parcels to “swap” for this open space. A process that could take potentially three to five years, these activities would significantly delay construction. A natural pond and waterways would also limit playing fields.
4. Existing Site/Renovation. The elimination of alternate sites might make the selection of a renovation of the existing WHS appear to be a choice of last resort. To the contrary, it is the first and best choice in terms of cost and speed to completion. It also meets the Town’s educational needs while satisfying the community’s historical preference for keeping the high school in the Town Center.
The EFPBC selected this solution (with the MSBA’s concurrence) because of its cost, schedule and satisfaction of educational needs:
Enrollment/Educational Program. The proposed renovation and addition of the existing high school supports the full education program and addresses overcrowding. Changes to the interior architectural configuration will create the space for ten additional classrooms, updated science labs and appropriate specialist spaces, with the added benefit of introducing natural light and access to fresh air.
Timing. Since the existing site does not require any additional flood mitigation measures or complicated land acquisitions, the project may commence promptly after its approval. Construction could begin as early as summer 2014, saving time and avoiding escalation costs or short-term repair investments. In addition, each portion of this phased renovation will be able to be used by students and teachers as completed, beginning the fall of 2015 (with all complete fall 2017). A new building would not be available until completion of the whole.
Cost. The estimated project cost is $129-$132 million, significantly lower than the new construction alternatives (for instance, $154 million for the Town Forest). With funding from the MSBA, the Town’s share is estimated at $85-$90 million. In effect, the Town will create the value of a $129-$132 million “new” high school, for two-thirds the price.
This renovation/expansion will allow for a transformed high school facility designed to meet the needs of WHS students for the next 50 years.
For more information, please read future articles in this publication, and visit the project web site at winchesterhsproject.com.
The Members of the EFPBC (Educational Facilities Planning Board Committee)
Robert F. Deering, Chair, BOS Representative (Precinct 1)
Donald E. Cecich, Secretary (Precinct 3)
Bill McAlduff, Superintendent of Schools
Roger M. Hain, Finance Committee Representative (Precinct 6)
Cindy Bohne, School Committee Representative (Precinct 6)
Geethanjali P. Mathiyalakan, Engineer (Precinct 5)
Charles Tseckares, Architect (Precinct 3)
Brendan Driscoll (Precinct 7)
Gerald R. Nardone (Precinct 3)
Linda A. Rossetti (Precinct 2)
Shelly Walsh (Precinct 7)