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Waltham’s mayor eyes deal for future high school home

City officials say Waltham High School should be rebuilt to handle growing enrollment and offer more programs.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

WALTHAM — City officials are considering a proposal to erect a new Waltham High School next to the existing building, but Mayor Jeannette McCarthy hopes to complete a deal to secure about 46 acres on Lexington Street that could be used for the project instead.

McCarthy is seeking up to $18 million from the City Council to buy a retreat center run by the Trustees of the Stigmatine Fathers, Inc., which is across the street from city-owned property that is home to the current high school and a middle school.

If the City Council approves funding and a deal is reached, it could alter proposed plans to erect a larger and upgraded high school to replace the nearly 50-year-old building.

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City officials say they need a new Waltham High School to handle growing enrollment and offer a broader range of academic and vocational programs than what’s available at the current school.

Officials had been considering two options: building a new or renovated school on the existing Lexington Street property, or build a new high school on city-owned land at the former Fernald Developmental Center off Trapelo Road.

Schools Superintendent Drew Echelson told the Globe officials had previously considered Stigmatine, but it was dropped from consideration because the city didn’t control the property.

Any proposed location would be home to a 418,000-square-foot school building designed for 1,830 students, said both Echelson and McCarthy.

McCarthy declined to discuss the status of negotiations with Stigmatine’s owners Wednesday. Representatives for the Stigmatine Fathers could not be reached for comment.

The city will hold public hearings on the proposed high school project on Nov. 30 and Dec. 6.

Echelson confirmed an estimated cost of about $283 million by architects for a new building on the current high school property, but McCarthy told the Globe she believes she can keep costs to about $250 million for a new high school.

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On Monday, a city school building committee recommended to the Waltham School Committee to reuse the existing high school property, which would mean erecting a new building next to the current school, and then demolishing the old one, according to the current proposal.

McCarthy told the Globe she is concerned that using the existing site will mean new construction will be squeezed into space not already used by the current high school building, and not use the land effectively.

The majority of members on the Waltham School Committee, which McCarthy oversees as chairwoman, said they need to know more about using Stigmatine for a high school project before their scheduled Dec. 7 vote on a location for a new high school. School Committee member John Graceffa went further, and told his colleagues Wednesday his preference was to use Stigmatine for a high school site and that he’d be hard pressed to support using the existing high school location.

“The School Committee is interested in it now... that’s an important step,” McCarthy told the Globe.

McCarthy and Echelson have each said that building a new high school elsewhere would allow the city to reuse the existing building as a school for students in the lower grades. Echelson said, along with a larger high school, the district will need an additional school building to handle enrollment growth.

Officials were interested in using Fernald for that reason, said Echelson. But the Massachusetts Historical Commission is concerned that erecting a school there would mean demolition of some of the 19th-century buildings on the property, and has asked city officials to consider an alternative location.

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Documents filed by the city to the Massachusetts School Building Authority state the city needs a high school project to upgrade current facilities and accommodate a growing student population. State officials estimated last year that kindergarten to grade 12 enrollment in Waltham would grow by more than 22 percent, from 5,215 students to 6,390 students, by 2024.

The city would seek state reimbursement for about half of the project’s eligible costs.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @draillih.