Mayor Addresses High School Project Cost Concerns

By Adam Swift

The first several months of 2023 will be a critical time for the future of the new Revere High School project.

While the City Council is united in expressing their desire to see a new high school, the end of 2022 saw the council questioning the price tag for the project and how the city will pay for it. At the last council meeting of the year, the council was presented with a price tag of about $499 million, with a grant from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) covering about $160 million of that cost of a new high school at the Wonderland site.

Monday night, Mayor Brian Arrigo appeared before the council, promising that the administration, the school department, and the project manager will be before the council at every meeting through March to provide an update on the project. The mayor said the city’s chief financial officer, Richard Viscay, will be at the council’s next meeting on Jan. 23 to discuss the cost and funding for the project.

“We heard loud and clear that the council wanted to hear some more information about the high school project, so I’m planning on being available to the council on rolling opportunities, and as you have meetings, we will have a standing agenda item that will be an update of the high school project just so that there will be no miscommunication or any issues in terms of what is happening,” said Arrigo. “We know this is a big, important project, and one that we don’t want to see lose momentum.”

The administration asked the council for a vote for a submission on the maximum cost of the project to the MSBA in December, but that didn’t happen.

“We are hoping that we can work on a timeline to get to March 1 to the MSBA,” said the mayor. “We know there are a lot of questions that need to be answered, work that needs to be done between now and then.”

While the bigger discussion of the project is likely to take place on Jan. 23 when Viscay addresses the council about project funding, Arrigo did bring some good news about the project on Monday night.

“Most importantly, there was actually an increase in the MSBA contribution level,” said Arrigo. “If you remember, in December, we said the project would cost on our side $338 million. That has been reduced now down to $324 million.”

While the $14 million might not sound like a huge number in comparison to the overall cost, Arrigo said it is a positive sign as the city looks to reduce the cost of the project to Revere on several fronts.

“The numbers are going to be a moving target,” he said. “So there are things like this, the contribution increase from the MSBA, is going to have an impact on what our final numbers look like.”

In addition to the MSBA contribution increase, Arrigo said initial findings from a geotechnical survey show there could be more cost savings in site and construction costs.

Arrigo also noted that the project team will continue with value engineering efforts to find ways to cut costs without impacting the educational programming at the new high school. As of now, the timeline for the project has the school opening in the fall of 2027.

A number of city councillors expressed their continued concerns over the cost of the project, while Arrigo said the focus should be on the overall cost to the city, rather than the imposing overall price tag that stands close to half a billion dollars. That figure includes about $80 million in contingency costs, a number questioned by several councillors.

Arrigo noted that the project team was coming in with a worst-case, highest price figure so that there would never be a need to come back before the council to request additional funding.

“I think it is awfully ambitious that we are going to move forward by March, but I look forward to hearing from the CFO and seeing how we are going to afford this,” said Councillor-at-Large Anthony Zambuto. “I’m deathly afraid that we are not going to be able to afford this, but we’ll see. I can be convinced, I’m not close-minded, but I’m worried and I’ll say that publicly.”

Arrigo said he understood the concern over the cost and funding expressed by Zambuto and several other councillors.

“I think it is very important for us to be talking about the Revere portion that we are taking on,” said Arrigo. “I’ve heard time and time again a half a billion dollars, I get that, but what we are on the hook for for what Revere is going to be paying is a moving target and what we want to do as much as possible is get that down to a reasonable cost. Most importantly, when we talk about a project of this magnitude, people can get scared if they hear a $500 million or a half a billion dollars.”

But Arrigo said the city is already looking at a $170 million-plus reimbursement from the state, along with other potential cuts to the city’s side of the cost.

“I’m not discrediting that at all,” said Councillor-at-Large Gerry Visconti. “My thought process is that when we first started all of this, we were under the impression that the entire project was going to cost roughly $340 million, and in that half a billion, there is still 90 to 100 million of a cushion that we have to discuss.”

Councilor-at-Large Marc Silvestri said that while he was also concerned about the cost of the project, he noted that there is no doubt that Revere needs a new high school, and that the cost will only go up.

“The price is only going to continue to keep going up,” said Silvestri. “It’s a fact, it’s a fact with all businesses and all development. The major impact here is on the kids.”

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