Council Votes Wonderland As Site for New High School

By Adam Swift

Following over a year of uncertainty, the future of the new Revere High School appears to once again be headed to Wonderland. On Monday night, the City Council voted 10-1 to approve the latest Revere High School Building Committee recommendation to submit a plan to build a new Revere High School at Wonderland. That option will now be headed to the Massachusetts School Building Authority this month. This will not be the last vote on the project, as it is likely the council will vote on the funding agreement and debt authorization for the project some time in June. That vote will need a two-thirds majority for the project to move forward. Councillor-at-Large Anthony Zambuto cast the lone vote against the building committee’s recommendation. “I know some people are looking at this as if it was everyone against Tony Zambuto,” said Zambuto. “I don’t take it that way. What I take is that I was fighting for the taxpayer.” Zambuto has stated that building at Wonderland would take substantial tax income off the books for the city. “I think my facts are correct, but now at this point, now that the school is going to Wonderland, I’ve got to hope that I am wrong,” he said. “I was always for a high school, everyone knows that, we just had a difference of opinion on taking property off the tax rolls to build it. I still feel the same way, I would still vote the same way, but I respect my colleagues, you looked at the facts as they were presented to you … some people tried to discount my numbers, I think they were underestimated, but that is neither here nor there. “The bottom line is we move forward from here and we do what’s right.” The Wonderland site was the initial selection for a new high school by the building committee, school committee, and city council in 2022. The council later approved the appropriation of $29.5 million for the eminent domain taking of the 30-acre-plus property. The city is still in litigation with the former owners of the property However, early in 2023, there were not enough city council votes to move forward with the debt authorization for the project. The council then sent the project back to the school building committee and the project development team, asking them to look at building on the current high school site. Over the past several months, the building committee narrowed down the preferred option for submission to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) to two plans, a four-story new building on either the Wonderland site or at the current high school property. The estimated cost of building on the Wonderland site would be $522 million, which includes the $29.5 million the city has already spent to take the 30-plus acre site by eminent domain. The estimated cost of building on the existing site is $550 million. After accounting for the MSBA grants, the total cost of building on the Wonderland site to the city would be about $285.5 million, according to the project team. “A lot of this is on myself and our administration, and of course, this is going to be on the backs of every resident in our city,” said Mayor Patrick Keefe. “I have just as much of a vested interest in protecting our residents and taxpayers as you do, and I feel that burden, and we will feel it every day from now until this project is finished. You have my word … I’ve let Consigli, I’ve let Leftfield, I’ve let the entire planning team know that if they come back to you in June or July with a dollar more in front of you, one dollar more, I will be happy to escort them out of the room.” Keefe added the city’s entire finance team will work to let the city know how the project will be approached and financed. “I do want to make sure that it is clear, that no matter where we build a school, no matter how we are going to build a school, that it is going to be expensive for all the residents of the city,” said Keefe. “To find $16 or $17 million in capacity on an annual basis during the height of the payments is not something that is easy to come by. So we will have to do things and we will have to make sure that we have revenues coming in and we will have to make sure that we have a balanced budget every year and we are able to sock some money away, and I am committed to doing that with the high school stabilization fund to have some rainy day savings to help pay for this school and to do the right thing.” Councillor-at-Large Michelle Kelley said she voted yes for the site, but added that she was uneasy about the vote because she believed both the Wonderland and current high school sites that were under consideration were deeply flawed. “I wish we could have done better with another site,” she said. “I was asking that question continuously and I was continuously told that there were no other options. So I really wish we had another option; I am concerned about safety regarding both sites.” Kelley said she did not want to disrupt the neighborhood at the existing high school site, but that safety is still a big concern for her at the Wonderland site, as is the pending eminent domain lawsuit. Ward 1 Councillor Joanne McKenna said her main concern was always to ensure that the taxpayers would not be consumed by the tax burden of the new school project. She noted that the former council originally voted to build on the Wonderland site, but that many councillors felt blindsided when the cost of the project jumped by over $120 million when it came before them again for a debt authorization vote. “Going forward, I would like to thank Mayor Keefe and his staff for being more transparent,” said McKenna. “The information that we have received is crucial in making the right decision tonight. What I have recently learned is that there would be a lack of parking on the Revere High School site, bussing in teachers, no student parking, and this would be a disruption and cause havoc to our residents and our surrounding neighborhoods.” She said the cost of repairing a culvert on the property and the destruction of Ambrose Park would also be an issue. McKenna noted that the cost would be similar for both proposed building sites, and that the Keefe administration has made assurances that the school could be paid for without an undue burden on property taxes. “I just want to be clear that tonight was about the site selection, it had nothing to do with the money,” said Council President Anthony Cogliandro. “I have faith that the administration is going to do a good job in proving to the council that we can afford this school. Because that is the utmost importance, we have to worry about our seniors on fixed incomes, we have to worry about single parents; we have a lot of people in this city who are struggling, holding on by a thread.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.