By Adam Swift
The latest round in the drama of building a new Revere High School took place at Monday nightâ€™s City Council meeting, with the council voting to request that the current high school site be considered the preferred location of a new school for submission to the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
The full council voted 6-5 in favor of the motion presented by Councillor-at-Large Gerry Visconti, despite its failing to garner a positive recommendation during an earlier ways and means subcommittee meeting on Monday. The four councillors who have consistently voted to move forward with the Wonderland site for a new high school â€“ Patrick Keefe, Steven Morabito, John Powers, and Marc Silvestri â€“ all serve on the six member ways and means subcommittee and voted against Viscontiâ€™s motion.
In the full council, Ward 2 Councillor Ira Novoselsky, who voted present to move the Wonderland schematics forward to the MSBA, also voted against Viscontiâ€™s motion. â€œA few weeks ago, the city council did not pass the schematic design at the Wonderland site,â€ said Visconti at the beginning of the ways and means meeting. â€œIt was evident that in order to move progress forward â€¦ we would have to move to the existing high school site.â€ The council initially voted to select the 33-acre Wonderland site as the site of a new high school over a year ago, but increasing costs for the project led to several councillors, including Visconti, to state that the council made the initial site selection vote without having proper and up-to-date financial numbers in place.
During Monday nightâ€™s subcommittee meeting, Morabito said he continues to stand by the Wonderland site as the best location for a new high school and would not vote for Viscontiâ€™s motion. Silvestri said he also believed it was the wrong decision to back off from Wonderland after years of professional design and review of the project.
â€œAt the final moment, we voted to put the brakes on the project, and I donâ€™t think itâ€™s the right decision for the city,â€ said Silvestri. Keefe said a decision to go back to the existing site would essentially mean the city was going with its second choice for a location. â€œRevere is a first class city, and going with the second choice is not an option that Iâ€™ll be considering,â€ said Keefe. Councillor-at-Large Anthony Zambuto noted that the Wonderland schematic design was voted down and is no longer an option. â€œThe schematic design is dead at Wonderland,â€ said Zambuto.
â€œThe only option on the table tonight is to go back to the original site, so if you truly want a new high school, I suggest you vote for this motion.â€ During the subcommittee meeting, several students, school officials, and residents spoke in favor of reconsidering the Wonderland option. Several residents who live near the current high school also expressed concerns about building in their neighborhood, as well as the potential for the taking of land by eminent domain.
Ward 6 Councillor Richard Serino noted that in 2021 during the site selection process, the plan for the current high school did not call for the taking of any property by eminent domain. However, ownerâ€™s project manager Brian Dakin of LeftField stated that there could not be a solid guarantee that the plan at the existing site wouldnâ€™t require additional land. To build the new high school on the existing site, it would have to be built on Erricola Park, with the park then being rebuilt after the building was completed. Under state regulations, the state legislature would then decide if the park land would be replaced at a one-to-one ratio or if more land would be needed. While several councillors noted that it is unlikely the city would need additional land, Dakin noted that there was no guarantee, since there have been recent occasions when the state has required municipalities to build back parks and fields at a higher ratio. Several councillors also raised issues about potential contamination of soil at the Wonderland site that could lead to even higher project costs.
â€œI just want to note that there is underground soil contamination risk at both of these sites,â€ said Dakin. â€œFrom the studies weâ€™ve done so far, the problem exists at both sites.â€ Assistant Superintendent of Schools Dr. Richard Gallucci said the financial impact of building on the existing high school site would be much higher in the long run because of the need to create space for elementary and middle school students. By building at Wonderland, Gallucci said the existing high school could be used down the line as a middle school. That, in turn, would open up space at the districtâ€™s elementary schools that currently share space at complexes with middle schools. â€œIt is significantly more expensive down the line to search for land for a new middle school, which weâ€™ll never find in the city,â€ said Gallucci. During the regular council meeting, Zambuto offered a minority report from the subcommittee asking for a full vote from the council on Viscontiâ€™s motion.
Prior to the vote, Ward 3 Councillor Anthony Cogliandro talked about his disappointment in the city administration with his efforts to meet with them to go over the finances for the proposed Wonderland option. He said he requested a meeting with Mayor Brian Arrigo and finance director Richard Viscay, but was later told he had all the information he needed from the administration. â€œMy risk has always been to take Wonderland off the tax roll, and my stance has always been that I donâ€™t want this at the existing site,â€ said Cogliandro. â€œItâ€™s never been about the cost for me, I donâ€™t care if it costs $2 billion to build this school, I care if we can afford it.
And the truth is, we canâ€™t; we canâ€™t afford it at Wonderland and we canâ€™t afford it at the high school.â€ Cogliandro said he isnâ€™t willing to add new taxes or things like trash fees or to cut from other city department budgets. He added that many people are already being priced out of the city. â€œWe need to go back to the drawing board, because we need a school, and we need to be able to afford this school,â€ he said.