~ Letter-to-the-Editor ~
On January 25, 2002 Malden voters were asked to approve funding for construction of a new Vocational High School in Wakefield to replace the existing one. The measure in Malden was passed by a vote of 666 – 151, with only 2% of eligible voters voting. What voters were not told before the vote was that the proposed new building would be built on top of a hillside, while student parking would be at the bottom of the hill, 60 feet below the elevation of the school. This will necessitate students walking up and down 105 steps every day, regardless of the weather and/or time of day.
Voters were also not told that the site chosen is a relatively pristine forested hillside, which was originally part of Breakheart Reservation. The forest has documented vernal pools, essential habitat for many threatened species, and also hosts a population of Whip-poor-wills, a Species of Special Concern in Massachusetts. Adjacent to the forest, and likely to be affected by the blasting that will be done to level part of the site, is breeding habitat for Prairie Warblers, Field Sparrows, Eastern Towhees, and Brown Thrashers, all of which are Species of Greatest Concern in Massachusetts as scrubland disappears from the Commonwealth.
Finally, voters were also not told that the proposed site on top of the hill was chosen over another site which had previously been recommended in a preliminary feasibility study in 2016. That site would be at the same elevation as the parking lot, and would be more cost-efficient (since it would not require blasting of the hilltop). It also would not destroy a pristine forest, the vernal pools found within it, and critical habitat for species of concern.
Vocational school students should have up-to-date facilities in which to learn, but do Malden residents want our children to have to climb the equivalent of six stories to get to school every day? Furthermore, do we want to destroy a pristine forest and the creatures in it, when a better and less expensive alternative exists?
[Further information about the forest and the proposed new Vocational School can be found at NEMTForest.org.]