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Architects present their case on possible Pope John renovation

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Estimated cost for new school approaches $140 million-plus

  Two architects asked to appear before the City Council and school administrators appeared before Tuesday’s City Council meeting at City Hall.

  Councillor-at-Large Stephanie Smith, who made the motion for the agenda item, with particular emphasis on the reuse of the former high school as a middle school, asked how much it would cost to build it new.

  Architect Frank Tedesco, principal of Mount Vernon Group Architects, estimated rehabilitation costs would be $76 million, including inflation and soft costs, according to a feasibility study. He estimated $140 million to build it new.“You can occupy it tomorrow,” Tedesco said. “How much [renovation] you wish you do is up to you.”

  Ward 1 Councillor Wayne Matewsky asked if its possible to do one or two floors and the remainder at a later date.

  Tedesco said there are currently afterschool, day care and summer programs operating inside the school, which closed its doors in 2019. He said the building is structurally sound. He added that it’s possible to phase the repairs.

  A few years ago, the city originally bought it for $10 million from the Catholic Archdiocese, with plans to make it affordable housing for veterans and seniors, according to Mayor Carlo DeMaria.

  We, as a body, want to do whats right for this community,” Matewsky said to much applause. I like the phase idea that [Tedesco] brought up.” Matewsky added the whole neighborhood wants a school there and that theyre used to it. He said the best thing the city did was buy the school.

  Councillor-at-Large Michael Marchese, who is against modulars, was also in favor of keeping it a school. Its on a bus line, structurally sound and a good location,” Marchese said. Its been approved to be a school.”

  Tedesco said the plan is to renovate the school, anticipating it to last 50 to 60 years.

  Currently, its not considered a Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) project; it would have to belocally funded.

  Supt. of Schools Priya Tahiliani said it’s absolutely worth that investment. Her $30 to $40 million estimate was only trade costs; it didn’t include HVAC upgrades.

  DeMaria, who first saw the presentation on Tuesday night, said, “Its a lot of money for a temporary fix.”

  “We’re still waiting for the MSBA decision [for a new high school], which could be approved in December or February,” DeMaria said.

  Ward 3 Councillor Darren Costa said we’re going from kids in the library with a temporary partition, not a state-of-the-art building.

  Councillor-at-Large Richard Dell Isola said it’s either going to go all in, not just a 10-year term.

  Tedesco estimated an eight-month design phase, roughly two to three years before the building is occupied.

  DeMaria said modulars, which are attached to buildings, are still an option. “Some of the most elite schools have modulars, and they are not construction trailers,” DeMaria said. “You can make it as beautiful as ever, adding new classrooms.”

  Andrew Barr, CEO of Rousseau Bar Associates, Inc., representing the school administration, said the mechanical systems, including the boiler, would need to be upgraded. “You could make it safe by doing some of that,” Barr said. “The fifth floor [where the nuns lived] would require a fair amount of renovation.”

  Barr said it’s a great building. He added that the windows and roof need replacing.

  Ward 6 Councillor Alfred Lattanzi said the first floor of Pope John is beautiful; however, there is rusty water on the other floors. “You don’t know what you’re going to find behind those walls,” Lattanzi said.

  Tahiliani said they’ll have to look at modulars to alleviate overcrowding at the high school. Pope John would solve overcrowding within the middle school population. “Pope John would solve about 70 to 80 percent of the problem,” Tahiliani said during a presentation before the council. “I do not support modulars.”

  She said modulars would equal space; however, Pope John would equal opportunity. “There’s no price for Pope John to make me believe that it’s not a good investment,” Tahiliani said. She said modulars result in health concerns, a lack of security and a lack of sustainability. Tahiliani said Pope John could open in 14 months, if approved.

  Ward 2 Councillor Stephanie Martins, who supports modulars while working on renovations, asked if the old high school on Broadway could be torn down and rebuilt. Martins said she had attended a school that had modulars.

  DeMaria, who advocated for a vocational school, said it would also have to be renovated as there’s a preschool there currently. “We’re going to go with Frank’s assessment, if we go with it,” DeMaria said. “I appreciate Barr’s assessment. I’ll go with the will of this council – whatever you’d like to do.”

  He said the overcrowding isn’t specific to the city, adding that it’s happening in surrounding communities. 

Smith requested to send it to the Mayor’s Office and the school administration before the next council meeting in the coming weeks.
Mayor Carlo DeMaria, who first saw the presentation during Tuesday’s City Council meeting at City Hall, said, “It’s a lot of money for a temporary fix.”

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