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Somerville votes to fund the priciest school in state history

The preserved historic facades and the new construction planned for Somerville High School.Symmes Maini & McKee Associates

When they cast their ballots for president on Tuesday, Somerville residents also voted to fund the highest-priced school building project in Massachusetts history.

The $257 million plan calls for building a 1,590-student high school on the site of the current school on Highland Avenue.

The $198.5 million Newton North High School, completed in 2010, is currently the state’s most expensive building project.

By a vote of 26,236 to 10,153, Somerville residents overwhelmingly approved a debt exclusion, or temporary tax increase, to fund $130.3 million of the city’s projected $137 million share of the project.

The added annual taxes for an average single-family home will rise gradually to a maximum of $294 in fiscal 2027, and then, starting in about fiscal 2047, gradually fall to zero in fiscal 2054.


The Massachusetts School Building Authority’s board is set to vote in February on approving the agency’s estimated $120 million share of the project.

About 300 volunteers from the Campaign for Somerville’s Future, a ballot committee advocating a “Yes” vote, reached out to voters through door-to-door canvassing, neighborhood meetings, and social media, said its chairman, Howard E. Horton.

“A new high school in Somerville is not only needed based on the problematic conditions of the existing high school but will also become a capstone to a great public education in the city,” he said.

“It’s very exciting,” Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone said. “Today the voters of Somerville came out and supported a brighter educational future and to continue the trajectory of excellence and achievement in the Somerville public schools.”

There was no organized opposition, but Brian McCarthy, chairman of the Somerville Republican City Committee, was among those urging a “No” vote.

“This is just too expensive and totally unnecessary. There is nothing wrong with the current Somerville High School,” McCarthy said, warning that the tax increase will price some homeowners out of the city.


Supporters said the price tag reflects significant challenges with the project, including that the site is in an urban core and on a steep slope, and the decision to include the first outdoor field space in the school’s history — atop a planned garage.

The existing school, part of which dates to 1895, is plagued by inefficient heating and cooling systems, inadequate access, and building code issues, while its exterior requires structural repairs, officials said. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges has warned the school’s accreditation could be in jeopardy if the problems are not corrected.

The plan calls for 82,700 square feet of the existing facility to be retained and renovated, with the remainder demolished. New construction would total 321,410 square feet.

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.