Relocate Project to Save the Forest AND Build the Voke
I’m writing in response to a recent article published in local papers containing Northeast Metro Tech officials’ rebuttal to opponents claims regarding the school building project.
1. Claim (by Northeast officials): “In January 2022, voters in the 12 communities served by Northeast Metro Tech voted overwhelmingly, with 82.6% in favor, to authorize construction…”
Reality: The following words did not appear on any ballot, nor were they a part of any public presentation about what it would entail to build the new vocational school up on the forested hilltop site (site C3). These words should have been on our ballots: “Mass tree-clearing and blasting operation.”
2. Claim: “The construction site in Wakefield was deemed…to be the only feasible site for the new building…”
Reality: All three drafted designs (options C1, C2, and C3) were designed to accommodate 1600 students in a 383,000 square foot building space. The two options not chosen – C1 and C2 – are on land that will NOT require clear cutting of 13.5 acres of virgin forest. C2 is a completely feasible option using existing open space where there are currently football and baseball fields. It would entail the lowest new construction costs, shortest building construction schedule, and least environmental impact.
The current hilltop site chosen, site C3, was chosen NOT for the lowest new construction costs, shortest building construction schedule, or least environmental impact. Rather, it was chosen to not disrupt the current athletic fields during construction, and to allow for a future hockey rink. (Note there are already two hockey rinks within a 10-minute drive, including the Kasabuski Memorial Rink, recently renovated and managed by the Department of Conservation & Recreation.) The hilltop site will require more than $40 MILLION just for site prep.
“The location of the new school allows construction to occur with the least amount of disruption to the existing school of any option. The district gains additional athletic fields with this option and maintains the potential of reserving the current football field/track for future development as a hockey rink.” Source: Preferred Schematic Report – 3.3.1 Final Evaluation of Alternatives – Dec 21, 2020.
The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) noted in their February 11, 2021 meeting minutes (p. 7) that site C2 (baseball/football field location) was acceptable but had been removed from consideration by the Project team and not by the MSBA.
3. Claim: “…a small group of residents opposed to the project has taken to typical ‘not in my backyard’ tactics…”
Reality: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead
This “small” group is actually not so small; nearly 6000 people signed the change.org petition to save OUR back yard – the NEMT forest.
4. Claim: “…this group has posted egregious falsehoods and misrepresentations about the project and has resorted to a little known tactic called Reverse Greenwashing.”
Reality: All information is backed by credible sources, including meeting notes and information from the Northeast Metro Tech Building Committee’s own website https://northeastbuildingproject.com/
5. Claim: “Northeast Metro Tech is a responsible steward of our environment”
Reality: It is very clear that environmental impact was never considered when choosing the site. Although we have minimal and dwindling natural resources left, avoiding clear-cutting a mature, virgin forest was NEVER prioritized by the committee.
The special election took place in January 2022 to vote for the new school, but as of April 14, 2022 the New School Building Committee had not even walked the hilltop site.
The “Questions and Answers” section on NortheastBuildingProject.com contained the following response to the question “How/why was the new school construction option chosen?”:
“Options were evaluated by the SBC for their ability to satisfy the following key criteria:
- Ability to accommodate educational delivery plan
- Cost versus MBSA reimbursement and long-term value
- Disruption to existing school’s operations
- Flexibility of design to allow for change in the future / expansion potential
- Final site layout: site access, vehicular circulation, safety & security
- Operating costs/maintenance
The selected option was found to be most advantageous in all key criteria established above.”
One key item NOT listed above is something along the lines of:
- Minimal environmental impact
Choosing the option that sacrifices 13.5 acres of Core forest habitat and over 2,000 trees, wetlands and vernal pools and all the benefits of all that natural beauty – simply to not disrupt the current athletic fields during construction, and to allow for a future hockey rink – is NOT a way to be a responsible steward of the environment.
Planting new trees cannot make up for the loss of an untouched old-growth forest. It would take approximately 100 years for replanted trees to mature into an old-growth forest again. Meanwhile a native habitat rich in biodiversity, dependent on the unique environmental conditions of a virgin forest will be lost, and the corresponding benefits for humans will be lost as well, including improved mental health and stress relief; air purification, water purification, and flood control; and fighting the greenhouse effect.
6. Claim: “The location…is final for all intents and purposes,” “Any delay in this project will deprive generations of students…,” “It means starting over…”
Reality: There is absolutely no need to start over. It’s not unheard of to make late phase design changes. The majority of the work has already been done. The committee would simply need to revise the location to one already considered previously, such as C2. The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) already noted (in their February 11, 2021 meeting minutes, p. 7) that site C2 (baseball/football field location) was acceptable.
Other schools have made site changes once they realized the current site was not the best option. See this example for the new Pickering Middle School in Lynn: https://www.itemlive.com/2023/03/15/engineers-suggest-site-change-for-new-pickering-school/?fbclid=IwAR2PRvPRikv5sRA13NEuElC-wIewQw2aN_XZTYROmpENloetuKNOrMec-KQ
7. Claim: “The alternative sites [e.g., C2] …may have even more expensive and challenging environmental requirements”
Reality: It is hard to understand how the alternative sites, which are not located on a hard to reach hilltop and do not require clear cutting of 13.5 acres of virgin forest, would be more expensive and environmentally challenging. The hilltop site will require more than $40 MILLION just for site prep.
“Save NEMT Forest” change.org petition states, “The Building Committee has two other viable sites available to them right there on vocational school land. We are advocating for site C2 which is located where the existing football field area is now. C2 has little to no blasting, a shorter construction schedule, is less expensive and can be built in only one phase without disruption to the students or the people who live nearby the project.”
8. Claim: “…trying to derail the biggest educational project in our region because they don’t want it in their neighborhood”
Reality: The “small” group of concerned citizens has ALWAYS been in favor of building the Voke. They have made it very clear the only thing they want to derail is the LOCATION of the project. The very title of the Facebook group is “SAVE the Forest and BUILD the Voke.” The change.org petition states, “We support both Vocational training as well as the new vocational school. It is only the building design and location to which we object. We do not want to ‘stop’ this project; we merely want the new school to be built on a different site that is less expensive and more accessible to everyone, no matter their physical abilities.”
On a personal level, my father went to a vocational school and used his education to start a thriving business in Malden Square that he successfully ran until he was well into his 80s. I am very proud of what he achieved, and 100% back a new vocational school for NEMT’s diverse population, to allow them the opportunities they deserve. I simply do not want to sacrifice the NEMT forest to achieve that goal.
Northeast officials continue to be tone deaf to requests to simply relocate the project to a different site. I urge readers to visit nemtforest.org and their Facebook page SAVE the Forest and BUILD the Voke, two valuable sources of information used in this letter, to learn the REAL facts about this project. Then call or write your elected and appointed leaders and urge them to support site C2, a completely feasible option using existing open space where there are currently football and baseball fields, that would entail the lowest new construction costs, shortest building construction schedule, and least environmental impact.
Tell them publicly funded projects using state agency funds should take environmental impacts into account. This request is urgent, because Northeast officials will soon begin clear cutting the forest as one of the first steps in the process.