The School Building Committee, city officials, and residents listened to the rationale about proposed sites for a new McKinley School.
At stake: the total cost of the project to the taxpayer; two beloved recreational facilities, both named after military veterans; and school facilities bursting at the seams due to increasing pressure from a growing population.
At a meeting Monday night at Revere High School, members of the School Building Committee presented three possible build sites for the new McKinley School to the public: the existing McKinley site, Henry Della Russo Stadium, and Hill Park.
The new McKinley School must be large enough to accommodate 690 students—about 200 more than the current number—in order to meet state recommendations, Superintendent Dr. Paul Dakin said. And though “nothing has been decided yet,” project architect Scott Woodin of Collaborative Partners said, plans to build the new school at Hill Park will be easier on the taxpayers' wallets, according to rough cost estimates.
The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), in each case, would cover 80 percent of the cost. The city would be left to cover the additional amount plus the costs for property acquisition, replacement of existing sites, demolition, and swing space. And not all of that money is reimbursable.
Building over the existing McKinley site requires a four-story structure and a multistory parking garage, according to a feasibility study supplied at the meeting. Furthermore, because of its size, the new building requires the acquisition of seven to nine adjacent properties on Foster and Yeamans streets. According to estimates, Revere would have to cough up $8.2 million plus an additional $3 million—for a total of $11.3 million—for the property acquisition, demolition, and swing space.
One problem with this plan, Woodin said, was that the final structure would be too oppressive for the surrounding community. Also, the city would lose the existing building—a historic building of 108 years—for additional municipal space, a point on which Dr. Dakin and Mayor Rizzo agreed.
Building the new school on the Henry Della Russo Stadium site emerged as a favorite plan because of the ample space there for the building, swing space, and some recreational areas, Woodin said. The city would be responsible for an estimated $7.3 million for the Della Russo option, but the existing stadium, because it is on the same deed as Hill Park and falls under the same Article 97 protection—it also received money from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) according to an August 1992 Revere City Council resolution—would need to be replicated elsewhere. In doing so, the cost of property acquisition and replacement of the Stadium and field—estimated at about $4.5 million for each—brings the total to $17.6 million.
By contrast, putting the school at Hill Park, Woodin said, would not require any property acquisition and the adjacent Della Russo Stadium could be used to complement other recreational sites. Only the existing softball field and tennis courts would need to be replicated elsewhere, thus making a build on Hill Park, at $6.9 million according to estimates, the cheapest for the city.
And replicating Hill Park two miles away behind St. Mary's Parish on Washington Ave., the estimates indicate, would cost $1.3 million, leaving the total cost at $8.2 million.
“The city is in a jam right now and we have to think forward ten, fifteen, twenty years from now so we're not having this conversation again five years from now,” the mayor said from the audience, adding that he supports building on the Hill Park site because it offers the best value.
But to members of the Hill family, that land is invaluable. Named in honor of Sgt. James J. Hill, a veteran of the Second World War, Hill Park, an historic area as old as the existing McKinley School, services over 800 children in the area, Tom Hill, 89-year-old brother of Sgt. Hill, said at the meeting.
“If you want a new school on Hill Park, give us land of equal or greater value, otherwise leave it alone and follow the rules,” Tom Hill said heatedly to Mayor Rizzo.
Based on documents received from Mr. Hill, The Revere Advocate reported last week that facilities that received money from the LWCF—like Hill Park and Della Russo Stadium—can only be converted for other municipal use if land of greater or equal value to the original site can be found elsewhere for replication.
Further, the conversion process, mandated under Article 97, requires a majority vote from the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), two-thirds vote at a town meeting, two-thirds vote by the state legislature, and review from the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act Office.
“You are creating a problem for the city,” Attorney Larry Simeone, speaking on behalf of the Hill family, said to the mayor. He continued: “You're not looking at how this affects residents as a whole… You have seven acres of land (at Hill Park and Della Russo Stadium) that is priceless. Families generation after generation have recreation there… Every great community has great schools, but every great community has places to recreate… The Hill family has represented the best in this city… If you wipe out every park to build on marshland, that would be an insult to every veteran of World War I and World War II.”
Rizzo answered: “These are the best parcels of land. If you take the emotional piece out and look at land use, Hill Park is the best option. It's the last thing I as mayor want to do, to argue with the Hill family, who has worked for many years to make this city what it is.”
Dr. Dakin repeatedly told the attendees at the meeting that he preferred to build the school on top of the Della Russo Stadium, but building on the Hill Park site, he reiterated, offers the best value to the taxpayers in the city. He noted that building on the old McKinley site will add additional stress to the streets and create traffic congestion there: Space will not allow for drop-off lanes for cars and buses; moreover, the size of the planned building will not allow any space for recreational areas there. “I want a McKinley School that Revere can be proud of,” the Superintendent said.”
Dr. Dakin went on to say that the building project is a result of an underlying problem in the city: More people are moving into Revere due to continuing residential development, but the schools are running out of space to accommodate new students. He stated: “The schools we have to build are a result of the city's plan… If you build they will come… [early enrollment numbers for this fall show] the largest kindergarten class we've ever had,” which will have a significant impact on the middle schools and high school in the future. And if the numbers continue to rise, he added, the state will require more schools to be built in the city.