City Council Approves Bond Authorization for New High School

By Adam Swift

Monday night, the city council voted 9-2 to move forward with a bond authorization of just over $493 million to build a new Revere High School at the 30-plus acre Wonderland property.

Monday night’s vote came a little more than 15 months after the council voted against moving forward with the project at Wonderland due to some councillors raising concerns about the financing and transparency of the process.

Councillors Anthony Zambuto and Michelle Kelley cast the two no votes against the bond authorization at Monday night’s meeting.

Over the past year, the School Building Committee and consultants were asked to consider building at the current high school site. But the building committee came back again with a recommendation to build a new four-story high school at Wonderland. That recommendation was later backed by the school committee and the council.

“Tonight, we are before you for the humble request for the city’s largest bond authorization ever for the future of our Revere High School and our entire Revere educational system,” said Mayor Patrick Keefe. “Over the past four years, the council, former councillors, and myself have worked relentlessly to ensure that we made the best choice.”

Over the past six months, Keefe noted that his administration has worked with the council to make sure any and all questions about the project from the council have been answered.

Last month, project manager Brian Dakin of Leftfield said that the state grant from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) would be slightly higher than initially estimated. After accounting for the MSBA grants, the total cost of building on the Wonderland site to the city had been estimated at about $285.5 million, according to the project team.

Ward 1 Councillor Joanne McKenna discussed her reasoning for voting against the project in 2023, but voting for the bond authorization this year.

“Do not be fooled by my vote tonight, it has nothing to do with how I was treated last year by my friends, some of whom I have known since I was a kid,” said McKenna.

McKenna said she was subjected to nastiness, meanness, and threats following her vote last year. She said she voted no at that time because of the extreme cost projections, as well as the lack of transparency and education she said the council received.

“It was my duty to put the city and our people first and to protect this city from going into bankruptcy or a vote for a Proposition 2-½ (debt exclusion) to finance this,” said McKenna. “The council and the city needed this year to look at how we are going to pay for this school. We received transparency and we were educated.

“We needed this time for the council to understand the numbers on what the city needs for finances and what we can afford,” McKenna continued. “Plus, with the substantial increase the city is getting from the MSBA to help finance this project, it makes the school more (feasible).”

Councillor-at-Large Marc Silvestri said he agreed that the council needed the extra time to dive into the numbers and the proposal.

“I believe the high school is going in the right place,” said Silvestri. “Is it scary? Absolutely; we don’t live in a perfect world, but our students need perfect education, and that is what we are here to produce for them.”

Councillor-at-Large Michelle Kelley said she would wholeheartedly like to see a new high school built, but that the factors for her were cost, timing, and unknown risk factors.

“Specifically, I would have liked to see the cost of the new school scaled back in terms of bells and whistles so that costs were at a more manageable level, especially since history tells us that projects always end up costing more than originally estimated,” said Kelley.

Councillor-at-Large Anthony Zambuto said the process this time around was transparent, but said there were still many unknowns, including the final cost of the Wonderland land. The land was taken by eminent domain for $29.5 million, but the former owners are taking legal action against the city to get more money for the property.

Council President Anthony Cogliandro commended each of his fellow councillors for their commitment to becoming informed about the project over the past year.

“There has been a ton of information thrown at us, and you’ve all done a great job and I appreciate it and I’ve loved working with every single one of you on this,” said Cogliandro.

The council president also praised Keefe for the administration’s openness during the process.

“I also want to say, for me, this is about me trusting the ability of the administration that they are going to do everything in their power to make sure we find the right ways without burdening the taxpayers to pay for this school,” said Cogliandro.

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