AP NEWS

Tewksbury TM OKs Funding for New School

May 7, 2019

TEWKSBURY -- After about two hours of civil, but passionate debate, Town Meeting approved funding for the new elementary school project. The project received 667 votes in favor and 106 votes against.

On Monday night, residents poured into the Tewksbury High School auditorium filling the bleachers and seats set up across the floor for Annual Town Meeting.

Town Meeting quickly appointed a temporary Town Moderator -- Keith Rauseo -- to replace former moderator Jayne Wellman Miller who was recently elected to the Board of Selectmen and breezed through the first seven articles, including the $112.98 million budget.

A murmur ran through the crowd as Town Meeting turned to Article 8 to approve funding for the new elementary school.

Designed to hold up to 790 students in grades 2 through 4, the project would place the new school on the existing Ryan Elementary School site, new administrative offices and an athletic complex at 135 Pleasant St. The school is expected to open in 2022, and will take students from Dewing, Heath Brook and Trahan Schools.

While the total cost of the project is estimated at $98.5 million, the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) will reimburse the town $32.7 million, leaving Tewksbury to cover around $65.8 million. In April, voters passed a Proposition 2 1/2 override to help fund that portion.

“We all understand that this is a large cost,” Town Manager Richard Montouri told Town Meeting.

He explained that the proposed elementary school project would address four projects in town -- the Trahan School, North Street School, administrative offices and Doucette Field -- that have been considered priority projects.

Superintendent Chris Malone described how roofs and systems like heating, air conditioning and electrical were struggling.

Speaking on the article, several residents asked why the schools had fallen into such bad shape.

“I feel like we don’t have a choice,” one resident said.

While those in support of the project described it as “state of the art” and an “educational complex,” those opposed worried about the cost to taxpayers, impact to traffic and the nearby wetlands.

During debate two different residents proposed two separate amendments. The first sought to reduce the $98.5 million budget by $10 million, so as to remove the athletic field from the project. The second amendment sought to reduce the budget to around $53 million.

Phyllis Giblin, who is an abutter of the project, proposed the first amendment. Over the months of discussions surrounding the project Giblin and other abutters have raised concerns about the cost, size and impact of the project.

“There are a lot of problems with this site where water is going to be increased,” said Gregg Mann, another abutter.

In response to those concerns, town officials have stressed that the project is the appropriate size for the site, a ring road around the site would mitigate traffic and the town would replicate any wetlands it builds upon.

Selectman Anne Marie Stronach said she also abutts the project told Town Meeting that passage of the original article would allow the town to develop specific plans on how to best mitigate drainage at the site. Stronach continued that the proposed project is similar to the high school project which included replacing athletic fields.

“This is not a school project, this is an educational complex,” Stronach said.

Speaking on the second amendment that aimed to use mostly state funds for the project, Montouri said that “any changes to that amount would be problematic.”

Both amendments failed.

Rousing cheers and applause then met Rauseo’s announcement that the original article with its $98.5 million funding, had passed.

Follow Emma R. Murphy on Twitter @MurphReports.