Diane Mahon: Yes For The High School Arlington Needs
As an Arlington High School graduate, parent, and former coach, I have seen firsthand the need to rebuild the school. I’m voting Yes on question 1 on June 11th because this is a project Arlington needs, and it’s a project we can be proud of. With two years of careful planning and a partnership with the state that includes an $86 million grant, we’re on the right path to build a high school that will serve our students and community well for a long time to come. The partnership with the state is significant, because in addition to the support and expertise the Massachusetts School Building Authority has provided in developing the plan, it reduces the cost to Arlington taxpayers by nearly 30%.
The remaining portion represents a substantial investment for the people of Arlington. I want to be clear, though, that we have to undertake a major high school building project no matter what. This facility does not work anymore. It’s a hodgepodge of aging buildings that don’t add up to a functional high school. In 2013, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges came to the same conclusion. The school is on warning to lose accreditation for a long list of reasons: systems at the end of their lifespan; classrooms that are too small; science labs that are seriously outdated and missing safety features; a lack of handicap access and egress; falling ceiling tiles. On top of these many problems, the school isn’t big enough to hold our increasing student population. We need more space soon, or we’ll have to start paying millions of dollars for modular classrooms.
If voters say no to this project, the offer of $86 million from the state goes away. This would be a tremendous loss for Arlington taxpayers, because in all likelihood we’d have to go to Plan B, which would cost Arlington more. As part of the feasibility study, the town investigated the cost of doing a renovation and addition instead of a rebuild. This Plan B project would fix some issues, but it’s the wrong project for us. The learning spaces still wouldn’t be right for today’s standards. The cafeteria and auditorium would be too small. We’d be carrying countless inefficiencies forward and exposing students to the hazards of renovating old buildings during a much longer construction period. And the cost to taxpayers would be higher! Instead of about $800 per year for the average single-family home, it would be about $1000 a year to fund an inferior project.
We have a good offer on the table from the state to help us build a school that meets all of our needs. All we have to do is say Yes. This plan makes financial sense for the town and is supported unanimously by the Select Board, the Finance Committee, the Capital Planning Committee, and the School Committee.
I graduated from Arlington High School in 1980. In 1975, an Arlington High School rebuild was voted down. In the time it took for the town to make a new plan, the state changed reimbursement policies. They would have contributed two-thirds of the cost of the school that was voted down. Instead they contributed 40% to a renovation/addition project. Arlington taxpayers paid more for an inferior result. Taxpayers got a bad deal, and students did, too. In the end, the school was bigger, but not better. It saddens me to see some of the same conditions and workarounds now that I saw when I was a student forty years ago. On June 11th, we have the opportunity to take a path that holds a lot more promise.
It excites me to look ahead to the future, and to think about the school we will build if residents vote Yes. The proposed building has a sensible layout and easy connections between classrooms. It’s accessible to students, teachers, and community members who have disabilities. It has good spaces for kids to collaborate in and good access to technology. The new building will facilitate learning instead of making learning harder. The design also makes much-needed improvements to field space and athletic facilities. It will be easy to secure — for everyone’s safety. It’s also designed to be a major community resource. On evenings and weekends, Arlington High School will be a hub of activity, with many generations of residents learning, using the athletic facilities, and coming together for performances.
It’s up to us to build the school our town needs. Now is the time to do this project right, with hard-earned funding from the state. I’m proud to be an Arlington High School graduate, and I’m proud to vote Yes to build a new Arlington High School that’s part of a promising future.
Diane Mahon is Chair of the Arlington Select Board