Should the Citizens of Weston Consider Building a new High School?

A New High School?

A question has been raised about the board of education and other town committees giving adequate thought to the option of building a new high school for meeting the school capacity needs of the school district. The idea has been thoroughly considered and dismissed because of several important factors….taxpayer willingness to pay for a new high school and the availability of suitable land are the most prominent of these factors, as well as the added costs of necessary renovations to existing school facilities to convert them to use for other grade levels.

The basic issue facing the board of education and town officials is how to “best” meet the needs of an increasing student enrollment for the next decade and beyond. There are numerous viable options to do this, including the construction of a new high school and renovating other school district facilities for grade levels different from that which they were designed to accommodate. The critical criterion in determining what is best seems to be “project costs.”

Several community groups have voiced considerable opinion about the cost of meeting the district capacity needs in the most cost-effective manner. One such report proposed what the “tax tolerance” of Weston has been and what it is likely to be in the future. Given this context, it is prudent for all town boards and commissions to be mindful of using taxpayer dollars in the most cost-effective manner.

The current high school facility is not adequate in size or room configuration to accommodate the projected enrollment for either a grades 6-8 middle school or a grades 3-5 upper elementary school.  In order to convert the high school to use by other grade levels, extensive renovation and additions would be required.

A new Weston High School, that would meet the level of education expected by this community, cannot be built for 41million dollars, as has been suggested by some citizens. Architects and professional school construction cost-estimators have priced such a facility with an adequate site at 75-80 million dollars. The School Building Committee has construction trade professionals as part of its membership. It is important to trust their judgment about this issue. Time is becoming a more critical factor. Schools need to be renovated and additions constructed to bring these facilities to the appropriate condition and size in time to meet the educational expectations of all Weston citizens. Each month of delay causes the cost of these projects to escalate.

The students are here and more are coming. It is clear that the school district is currently dealing with a facilities overload that will be exacerbated by continuing enrollment increases expected over the next decade. The Board of Education has proposed that Hurlbutt Elementary School be renovated to accommodate pre-kindergarten to grade 2. A new elementary school for grades 3-5 should be built. The middle school would accommodate grades 6-8.

The high school would have major additions and renovations to accommodate about 900 students. An auditorium for school and community use should be added to the middle school. The cost for all of these projects was estimated to be about 80 million dollars. After state reimbursements, the net construction cost to the Weston taxpayer would be about 70 million dollars.

The community has discussed and debated the resolution of the school capacity problem for more than three years. Well-intended people continue to search for ideal solutions. The practical reality is that the schools are overcrowded and in need of renovation. A solution that makes sense and has a reasonable price tag has been proposed. Time is money…as significant project escalation costs are a reality.

Time is running out….as inefficient and costly temporary solutions are pressed into service to meet the classroom needs of the district. The citizens of Weston have much at stake. The perceived quality of a Weston Public School education is dependent upon how and when the community responds to the school capacity issue.