SOI Submitted for New High School

By Seth Daniel

The Revere Public Schools submitted a Statement of Interest (SOI) to the state School Building Authority (MSBA) on Friday, requesting that the City be put into the building pipeline for a new Revere High School.

Already, the City Council had approved the move and Mayor Brian Arrigo and his staff have been intimately involved in the lead up to the filing.

Dianne Kelly, Superintendent of schools said this is the beginning of a long process, and she isn’t sure when the MSBA Board will consider the SOI from Revere.

“We won’t hear back on that for a little while, but we’re definitely moving in the right direction,” she said. “They will consider the SOI and eventually vote to either accept us into the pipeline or not. There aren’t a lot of details in the filings at this stage, but if we are accepted the next step is a feasibility study where the MSBA becomes deeply involved and begins looking at things such as a site or location…We did point out that our enrollments are growing and that three new schools we have built have opened with enrollments that already exceeded capacity.”

Mayor Brian Arrigo said it was the first step in a long and necessary conversation about the high school.

“As we all know, we need to start the conversation and the process of properly accommodating the needs of our high school students,” he said. “The process is lengthy and will require that every stakeholder be involved. The SOI is the first step on this process and signals the City’s desire to make sure that our kids have top-notch facilities. I look forward to working with the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the School Committee, the city council, Superintendent Kelly and all other stakeholders, in the coming years to reach that goal.”

That is one of the key arguments – aside from the expected cost of what could be up to $100 million. Heated arguments among City leaders have already taken place over where to put the new high school and what to do with the 2,000 students in the current school while any potential construction is underway.

If the new school were to be built on the site of the existing RHS, that would mean students would need to be relocated into “swing space” for up to two school years. That site has not been popular over the years, though, and it is prone to flooding issues.

Some have called for the new RHS to be put on the playing fields and parking lot behind the existing school, though that raises questions about what to do for sports teams during that period of time, as well as where they would replace the park space – which would be a requirement of building the school.

The highly unlikely, but preferred option, among many on the School Committee would be to locate the new RHS at Wonderland Dog Track. That, of course, depends upon the owners of Suffolk Downs agreeing to sell or “gift” a parcel of land at the Track to the City during any upcoming redevelopment of that large tract of land.

Those arguments are premature at this point, though, as the MSBA will likely not vote on acceptance until the summer. Most believe that the Authority will accept Revere into the program as it is the MSBA that four years ago ordered the City to build a new high school. That came when the schools and City were in the final stages of a plan that would have reconstructed badly needed science labs within the existing high school.

When it came down to a state decision, the MSBA said they wouldn’t approve money for Revere’s project, and instead told the City it needed to build a brand new high school instead.

Kelly said it is quite apparent that the City needs a new RHS.

In her application, she cited three key reasons: severe overcrowding right now, prevention of anticipated overcrowding due to increasing enrollments, and the replacement of the building to ensure that the facility can provide programs that comply with state and local requirements.

The last matter was a nod to the science labs, which have been roundly criticized by state and regional education officials – and which threaten to cause the high school to lose its accreditation if not updated within the next eight years.

The first two reasons have everything to do with Revere’s explosion of kids and families.

Kelly said in the last five years, RHS has seen a 16 percent increase in students – amounting to 235 more kids.

That pales in comparison though to what is coming. A series of about four years worth of gigantic kindergarten classes starting five years ago threatens the school’s ability to house those large classes of kids.

“About five years from now, we will hit the peak at the high school for our student population,” she said.

That is particularly scary for the school community and its staff and teachers due to the fact that space is already a coveted commodity at RHS. Kelly said they now run classrooms in the hallway, and have carved five new classrooms out of the Library.

“We’re pretty much bursting at the seams right now,” she said.

A key to the growth in the upper grades right now, Kelly said, is the changes that are occurring in Boston. As rents and the cost of living go up in Boston, many families have been pushed out to Revere and neighboring communities.

“There is a lot of development going on in Revere with new apartment buildings and that brings more kids,” she said. “You have to look at the housing market in Boston too. The boom there is squeezing people out and they are coming here.”

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