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High School Needs Millions in Repairs, New School an Option

Somerville High School faces about $9.5 million in repairs within the next four years. The city will conduct a study and look into building a new school.

Somerville High School needs almost $7 million worth of repairs and replacements within the next two years and nearly $9.5 million within the next four years, according to an engineering report released by the city Monday afternoon.

As a result of those projected costs, the city will study the short- and long-term needs of the school and consider the possibility of building a new high school.

"This news of our high school's significant repair needs provides a useful context for a review of our longer-term options," said Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone in a statement. "It may be the case than an altogether new school building may be the best and most cost-effective option."

$9.5 million worth of repairs and replacements needed; building is safe, says city

According to the engineering report, prepared for the city by Maguire Group Inc., the school needs substantial repairs and replacements to the brick exterior, masonry, windows and roof, among other things.

The central part of the school was built in 1895, and the last time any major work was done on the school was in 1986, when the building was remodeled and the city built the gymnasium and the Somerville Technical High School wing. There hasn't been any major improvements made to the school's exterior in 24 years, according to an announcement sent with the engineering report.

Jackie Rossetti, a spokesperson for the city, emphasized the school is completely safe for students and staff.

That said, Maguire Group listed approximately $500,000 worth of repairs that are of the highest priority and that need to be addressed as soon as possible.

This includes:

  • Rebuilding brick corners of the building "where the face brick is diagonally shearing off"
  • Rebuilding brick above window heads
  • Fixing the brickwork between windows "where the face brick is cracking off"
  • Repairing cracked window sills "in danger of falling off"
  • Patching parts of the roof

More expensive are repairs Maguire Group says are needed within the next two years: almost $6.5 million worth of repairs to cracked brick and masonry in addition to window replacements and other fixes.

Then, within four years, the high school needs another $2.5 million worth of replacements to windows and roofs.

Considering a new school and next steps

In light of those repair costs, it makes sense to "look at all your options based on how old the building is," said Rossetti.

The city is forming a working group to study the engineering report. In addition, the city will conduct a feasibility study that includes various option, including the option of building a new facility, possibly at a different location. Rossetti said such feasibility studies typically take about 9 months to a year to complete.

The feasibility study will "help us assess the relative merits of a new facility as well as look at possible locations and associated costs," Curtatone said in the statement. "In the meantime, we will take every step necessary to ensure that the current building remains a safe and positive learning environment for our students and families."

"We'll continue to do the necessary repairs" to make sure the school is safe, said Rossetti.

Costs of building a new school

The city has been working with the Massachusetts School Building Authority, according to Monday's announcement. The authority would likely be an important source of funding should the city decide to build a new school. 

The Massachusetts School Building Authority provided approximately toward the construction of the new East Somerville Community School, which burned down in 2007 and is now projected to be open again in 2013. It also provided for the project when construction bids came back high and the city needed to scramble to find enough financing.

"I think the MSBA understands that our high school is one of only a very few in the state that has not been rebuilt, or at least thoroughly rehabilitated, in the past quarter century," Curtatone said in the statement.

As a point of comparison, the cost of the new East Somerville Community School, which will serve about 600 elementary school students, is projected to be around $39.1 million. Somerville High School had about 1344 students enrolled in 2010-2011.

Maguire Group Inc. is also the engineering firm working on the East Somerville Community School.

Somerville Teacher January 24, 2012 at 01:35 PM
I am a teacher at the high school and I am disappointed that this article only addresses the exterior of the building. What about the water damage and mold issues inside the classrooms? What about the broken doors and window that don't open or shut properly? What about the heating systems that are so loud that they distract from teaching, not to mention the money wasted on these inefficient systems? What about the holes in the walls, some with plants growing through them from the outside? What about the dingy, dirty walls and ceilings? Our students and teachers deserve better in a building that they spend 7 hours a day in. If we expect students to care about the building, the community, and their studies, we need to show them we value this school environment. I encourage the community to visit the school to see what I am talking about, particularly on the open house days coming up in February.
Amanda Kersey January 24, 2012 at 02:09 PM
Here is some more information about the city's planned investment in the high school and other public school buildings: http://somerville.patch.com/articles/school-committee-regrets-skinny-allocation-of-money-to-improve-school-buildings
Jonah Petri January 24, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Somerville deserves a much better high school facility. Whether that comes from razing the old high school and building a new one, or from a gut-level rehabilitation of the existing structure, I don't know. But, I've been in that building enough times to know that what "Somerville Teacher" describes above isn't an exaggeration. We need an appropriate learning environment.
Paula Woolley January 24, 2012 at 02:23 PM
It's about time that the city is considering doing something about the High School's facility! But I hope they'll keep it where it is, since the location is close to the center of the city, accessible by various bus routes, and in the future will be right next to a new Green Line station. Since the mayor has also discussed moving City Hall and the Central Library to Union Square, I wonder what he envisions taking the place of these 3 buildings on Highland Ave? And how exactly will Union Square be able to deal with the added traffic that moving City Hall and the library there would inevitably cause? (Regardless of the addition of public transportation, there will always be people driving over for short errands at City Hall, dropping off books at the library, etc.)
been there - done that January 25, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Somerville, sadly, has a chronic problem with tending to ordinary business like paying firefighters and fixing things up. The bad habit of deferring maintenance (the high school has had problems for years!) always winds up costing taxpayers a lot more in the long run - even if it isn't politically glitzy! The expensive repairs to the roof of the West Somerville Branch Library, because the drains and gutters had been neglected, are a case in point. With schools, maybe it works as a business plan because the state reimbursement for new construction is so generous. However, something about the idea of letting schools fall apart (hey, there are students and their teachers in there) until we are forced to build something new doesn't quite seem right. If there is a new high school, it has to be planned and bid out with complete transparency! The state only covers so much and, as we learned with the Lincoln Park replacement, going with one the most expensive architects around, not talking with the neighbors, and mistakenly assuming that the state would pick up the bill for embellishments will cost us major dollars for many years. Just because we can borrow money and push payment onto our children doesn't mean we have to. And, please not another pie in the sky Union Sq. edifice! Many residents of Cambridge have easier foot and bus (and, someday, green line) access to Union Sq. than most Somervillens!

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