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Referendum on funding new $317M Northeast Metro Tech now goes to voters

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Malden residents will vote in Special Election on Jan. 23 with 11 other sending communities

  When a contingent of Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational High School (Northeast Metro Tech) representatives visited the Malden City Council in October and laid out plans for a new, $317.4 million facility, the proposal was well-received. According to projections by the Northeast Metro Tech reps, Malden taxpayers would be asked to fund approximately $36 million over 30 years – about $1.2 million per year – to help pay for the new school. The largest state grant in the history of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) of $141 million, plus an additional $25 million expected from the state, is expected to drop the figure for the new school building for Northeast Metro Tech to around $153 million for the sending districts to pick up. The Malden Councillors were not required to vote on approval (or denial) of the proposal, so no vote was taken, and Malden was counted as one of the 10 communities of the 12 sending districts, total, which were in favor of funding the new school.

  The sending districts to Northeast Metro Tech are Malden, Chelsea, Melrose, North Reading, Reading, Revere, Saugus, Stoneham, Wakefield, Winchester, Winthrop and Woburn. Two of the 12 districts, however, took formal votes which ended up stating opposition for their respective communities approving funding for the new Northeast Metro Tech. Municipal legislative bodies in both Saugus and Chelsea voted against supporting funding the new school project. The formal opposition to the new school funding plan triggered a proviso that a Special Election be held in all the 12 sending district communities regarding approval of appropriating funding for the new school project.

  The date for the Special Election was set by a Malden City Council vote at Tuesday night’s meeting for Tuesday, January 23. Special voting details that day include that voters in all 16 precincts in all of the eight respective wards will cast votes in one central location, the Malden Senior Center (7 Washington St.). Also, the polling place for this Special Election will be open from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. only.

  When explaining the details of the January 23 Special Election, Malden City Clerk Greg Lucey, at Tuesday night’s final City Council meeting of 2021, noted this is a change from the usual polling place voting hours of 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. City Clerk Lucey also noted that while there will be no mail-in voting in this Special Election, there will be absentee ballots available.

  While the proposal before the Malden City Council by Northeast Metro Tech Superintendent David DiBarri and consultant Charlie Lyons was favorably received in Malden and other communities, not so in Saugus and Chelsea, where those municipal governing bodies expressed serious concerns with the size of the price tag on the proposed new school and what it would mean to those communities’ taxpayers annually. The Chelsea City Council was unanimous in its rejection of the proposal with an 11-0 vote. Plans had called for Chelsea to be responsible for about $1.9 million per year for 30 years to fund its share of the new school project. Saugus Town Meeting members voted 37-6 to support the Finance Committee’s recommendation to not raise and appropriate a sum of money for the costs attributed to the construction of the facilities of a new Northeast Vocational High School. According to details outlined before the Saugus Town Meeting by the Northeast reps, that community was being asked for a $23.3 million (13.7%) contribution to the overall funding for the new school project.

  The January 23 Special Election would appear to be a favorable one for the new school plan since 10 of the 12 sending districts did not formally reject the proposal after it was presented to its respective governing body. But the voters themselves in the communities will now ultimately decide the fate of the project. A simple majority vote is required, either way it falls. At the presentation in Malden, the Northeast Metro Tech consultant Lyons noted that there has never been a Special Election for funding a vocational school building project that has lost in Massachusetts when it has gone to the voters.

  Plans call for a four-story new Northeast Metro Tech facility that will provide enough space for 1,600 students – a 26% increase to what the current vocational school in Wakefield offers for student capacity (1,270 students).

  There is at this time a waiting list of approximately 400 students from the 12 communities. The new school would allow Northeast Metro Tech to clear that waiting list.
Highlights of the new school include a design to maximize 21st-century learning environments, a full-size gymnasium, a new cafeteria, a 750-seat auditorium, state-of-the-art shop space, an upper-level courtyard, roof decks, a double-height library rotunda and improved individualized education program (IEP) accommodations.

The Northeast Metro Tech School Committee voted to approve moving forward with a proposal to construct a new, $317 million school – funded by the sending districts. Above is an artist’s rendering of the proposed new school building.

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