By Sara Brown
The city council seemed to be in favor of renovating the old McKinley School (once the new one is built) by voting 4–2 in favor at a subcommittee meeting last Wednesday. The whole council will vote on April 2.
The renovations are the last bond the council needs to vote. The council voted in favor of a new school, stadium, and ball fields. This particular bond is for $2.5 million.
The plan is to put the school superintendent’s office in the old building (McKinley), in order to give the high school more space, and possibly put some city offices in there as well.
“The building itself is structurally sound. It’s a good-looking building,” Mayor Dan Rizzo said. “I thought [we’d] keep it as a municipal asset.”
Councillor-at-Large Brian Arrigo asked whether the new space in the high school would prevent the city from having to build a new one in the near future.
“I don’t want to build a new high school. I am taking a year-by-year approach with the high school,” Rizzo said. “…We need all the space we can get.”
Recently, the school system was denied grant money for brand new science labs for the high school funded by the MSBA.
“We didn’t get the grant, because of crowding. We didn’t get the grant, because the high school is not a 21st century learning environment,” Superintendent Dr. Paul Dakin said.
Dakin suggested that within the next ten years plans should be in place for a new high school or their accreditation could be at risk. “We will be the only high school around that is not accredited. Your diplomas aren’t going to weigh for college like they do now,” Dakin said. “It’s something the community is going to have to address.”
Dakin said there are advantages to approving the bond. “We will [do] extra maintenance if we know it’s approved,” Dakin said. “Without the promise, we will keep safe for the kids and have normal maintenance. It would be fool-hearted to do extra maintenance.”
Some councillors worried that it was too soon to decide what to do with the building, especially with the growing student population every year.
“What if we need that space for students later? Where are we going to put them? In an office building?” asked Ward 5 Councillor John Powers. “None of us have a crystal ball. We don’t know what’s coming down that road.”
Council President Ira Novoselsky agreed. “I will put money towards the fact—once the superintendent’s office is in there, within a five to seven year period, there will be kids in there,” he said.
“I hope we don’t have to put students back in the [old] McKinley School,” Rizzo responded.
Dakin said the entire school system is 6,800 students, which is the largest it’s been in 30 years. The past year was the first year with 600 kindergarten students. Usually, it is around 500.
“I hope it [the school population] levels off. If not, we are in trouble,” Dakin said. “Rather than hiding the conversations, I think constructive and planning conversations have to go on. The only way those conversations happen are if we realize we are all swimming in the same fishbowl. The school department is not in one fishbowl and the city in another. These growth problems are a city problem. Solutions are not rooted in the school department. They are rooted in the community.”
The school department plans on paying for the school renovations.
“I am still shaking my head from the other night. All of these things got voted on and this one got put aside,” Ward 1 Councillor Richard Penta said. “If there is one that you voted on and your theme was the taxpayer, this is the one you should have voted on the other night.”
Councillor-at-Large Anthony Zambuto agreed. He said, “This is the easiest bond for me to vote for. It’s not going to cost the taxpayers a dime.”