How I came to favor Wheelock
Twenty years ago as a newly elected select board member I was uncertain when the schools, under Superintendent Bob Maguire, announced that the town needed to renovate three schools at a cost of $56m. I knew nothing about building schools or any other municipal buildings, so I attended about two dozen meetings over the course of the next year, held by the then School Building Committee under the leadership of its Chair, Tim Bonfatti. That resulted in my learning a lot and ultimately supporting the town renovating the Memorial School, the Medfield High School and the Blake Middle School.
After that year of SBC meetings I learned that schools are expensive and why municipal buildings are about one-third more expensive to build than private construction (required statutory safeguards due to past transgressions). I learned why past decisions limit alternatives (the current Blake Middle School, then the MHS, could not be renovated to house the number of MHS students we had because ten years earlier a renovation had installed 8′ wide hallways and state regulations required 10′ wide hallways for schools with the number of students we had). And I learned that no one wants to have their taxes increased, and that some will opt to not agree to any higher taxes no matter the need.
About two years ago I began to attend the current School Building Committee meetings, because I knew Select Board members would need to vote on the issues. I was often one of only a dozen residents at those meetings. Like everyone in town, I already knew the Dale Street School needed fixing or replacing. Twenty years earlier I had not participated in the MSBA part of the process, but this time I watched that MSBA process occur, and was impressed at the detailed steps the town was mandated to take. I also learned that the current School Building Committee Chair, Mike Quinlan, was in many ways a clone of Tim Bonfatti, as both were knowledgeable building professionals, both calmly ran fact based meeting despite some contention, and both seemed to have a total command of the endless details of the projects.
When the decision on school siting got to the Select Board in September 2020, I had an opinion that favored Wheelock from listening to the consultants to the School Building Committee at their meetings. At our joint Select Board and School Building Committee meeting, that opinion was only reinforced as I heard why the School Building Committee members unanimously favored Wheelock.
This is why I ultimately favor the Wheelock site, in the order of importance to me:
• the building professionals opined that the Dale site is too tight/small, and if we built there they said we would get a “compromised” school
• there are educational synergies from having grades 2 – 5 on one campus
• the cost of building at the two sites are similar enough, compared to the total costs, as to not be dispositive
• building a grade 2-5 campus creates additional future use flexibility
• there is no danger to the town wells from building at Wheelock, and the planned Wheelock pavement improvements actually increase protection of our wells
• there is lots of open space around Wheelock
• neighborhood traffic issues will be addressed
• I see opportunities in a vacated Dale Street building, not just costs
I thought that the Warrant Committee did a remarkable and complete analysis of the details of the decision for our town, and the Warrant Committee endorsed the Wheelock site choice by a near unanimous 8-1 vote.
In sum, the town had the benefit of in depth analysis of the proposed new school and its siting decision by an impressive group of individual residents who serve on both our School Building Committee and on our Warrant Committee, and nearly all endorsed the Wheelock site. Additionally, all of the School Committee and Select Board members endorse the Wheelock site.
At the special town meeting a week ago, I found it disappointing that such a small percentage of our residents attended. However, if the election ballot tomorrow on 11/15 indicates enough support for the override, which I interpret as a surrogate for proceeding with the school at the Wheelock site, and where the statutory structure allows Select Boards to call for an additional special town meetings to consider the question anew, I would favor giving residents another chance to show up at another special town meeting. My gut tells me that more than two-thirds of our residents do want our new school at Wheelock.