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The Boston Globe

North

Stoneham

School building project faces another key vote

After receiving overwhelming Town Meeting approval, a plan to relocate the Stoneham Middle School to an expanded elementary school building faces a second crucial vote next month.

Residents at the April 3 annual town election will consider a debt exclusion to fund the town’s $18.2 million share of the $40.6 million project, which calls for expanding and renovating Central Elementary School to serve as the new home of the middle school. A debt exclusion is a temporary tax increase to repay debt on a project.

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A Special Town Meeting Feb. 7 appropriated the project amount minus $600,000 previously approved for a feasibility study and schematic design, subject to passage of the debt exclusion. The action came on an overwhelming hand vote that the town moderator declared had achieved the required two-thirds margin.

The vote came after the Massachusetts School Building Authority board on Jan. 25 agreed to reimburse the town for 57.5 percent, or up to a maximum of $22.4 million, of the project’s eligible costs, subject to the town authorizing the full amount within 120 days.

“We were all thrilled,’’ School Committee member Jeanne Craigie, who chairs the Middle School Building Committee, said of the Town Meeting outcome, noting that no one rose to oppose the article.

Craigie said she is “cautiously optimistic’’ voters will now pass the debt exclusion, which would add $176 to the annual tax bill of an average single family home.

“It’s a decision that people have to make as they do their own budget,’’ she said, adding that for her, “It’s an investment in the town. I am convinced this will help not only the kids but the whole community. It’s exciting.’’

The 58-year-old middle school building, which shares a campus on Central Street with the elementary school, has outdated mechanical systems, and such other deficiencies as missing floor tiles, a leaky roof, aged windows, and poor access for people with physical handicaps, Craigie said.

The proposal is to construct an 80,213-square-foot addition to the existing 56,197-square-foot Central school. Once the project would be completed in the fall of 2014, the overall 136,410-square-foot facility would become the new home of the middle school. The current middle school would be demolished, according to David Krawitz of Joslin Lesser + Associates, the town’s project manager firm.

The project would also involve targeted renovations to the 11-year-old Central school building to accommodate team teaching and to put in place green energy features.

The proposal is tied to a plan approved by the School Committee last August to add the fifth grade to the existing sixth- to eighth-grade middle school. Central, one of the town’s four elementary schools for grades preK-5, would cease operating and the other three elementary schools would switch to preK-4.

Officials have said the addition of the fifth grade to the middle school would help the district meet a goal of enhancing the transition from the elementary to the middle school and that consolidating the elementary schools would make them more efficient, including having more uniform class sizes.

The Board of Selectmen unanimously voted its support for the plan prior to Town Meeting, according to R. Paul Rotondi, the board’s chairman.

“We are going to need a new school. It’s going to have to be addressed,’’ said Rotondi. “This is the most cost-effective solution and the time to do it. Interest rates are at the lowest levels they are ever going to be for the bond; construction costs are at their lowest.’’

He added that with state funds, the town would only have to cover $18 million of a $40 million project.

He said the plan also “allows us to remove one school from the system, and the savings related to that is going to help us reinstate programs that were lost during the budget crunch of the last few years without costing the taxpayer a dime.’’

The Finance and Advisory Board also supported the plan, but with two members dissenting.

If the debt exclusion passes, Krawitz said, site work could begin this summer.

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