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School Committee votes to build new high school at Wonderland site

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Outcome of lawsuit could possibly raise price tag of construction


By Barbara Taormina


The City Council voted 10-1 to build the new Revere High School at the former Wonderland Dog Track site, giving the plan the triple approval of the school building committee, the School Committee and the council – required by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) – ending more than a year of contentious and emotional debate. Councillor-at-Large Anthony Zambuto was the lone vote against the plan to build at Wonderland.

Zambuto stuck with his long-held opinion that building at Wonderland as supposed to the current site would be a critical fiscal mistake in taking the (Wonderland) parcel off of the city’s tax rolls. Zambuto waged an 11th hour information campaign outlining the loss of revenue Revere would suffer. “I was fighting for the taxpayer,” Zambuto told the crowd packed into the City Council Chambers. “I think my facts are correct but at this point, now that the school is going to Wonderland, I’ve got to hope that I’m wrong. I don’t want to have to tell you ‘I told you so’ because the consequences are dire. I still feel that way, but I respect my colleagues. I was always for a new high school – we just had a difference of opinion on taking the property off the tax rolls to build it. The bottom line is we move forward from here and we do what’s right.”

Other councillors also took the opportunity to explain their votes to the community.

“My main concern was to make sure taxpayers wouldn’t be consumed by this project,” said Ward 1 Councillor Joanne McKenna in explaining why she had previously voted against Wonderland. “I felt it would lead to hardship for Revere.”

But McKenna said new information, such as the lack of parking for teachers and students during construction at the existing site, the $40 million culvert repair and the plan to pave over Ambrose Park for parking for construction vehicles – added to the fact that estimates for building at both sites were similar – led her to change her vote.

Councillor-At-Large Michelle Kelley said she voted in favor of Wonderland but it wasn’t sitting well with her. “I really do feel both of these sites are extremely flawed and I wish we had done better with another option,” said Kelley.

“I’m concerned about safety at both sites,” she said, adding that disrupting of the neighborhood at the existing site was a key issue as well as the pending $100 million eminent domain lawsuit from Wonderland’s former owners and the possible financial hardship the city might face.

City Council President Anthony Cogliandro said the council’s vote was only for the site. The vote on funding the project will come later, during the spring. “I have faith the administration is going to do a good job of proving to the council that we can afford this school,” said Cogliandro, who acknowledged that many Revere residents are already struggling and can’t afford a major tax hike to pay for the project.

Mayor Patrick Keefe responded to those concerns, acknowledging that the school will be expensive. “A lot of this is on myself and our administration and it will be on the backs of everyone in the city,” said Keefe. However, Keefe added that his financial team will be able to explain how Revere will pay for the school.

“We’re feeling very confident,” he said, although he conceded it’s going to be expensive.

“I applaud you all for your decision,” Keefe told councillors, adding, “You’ll reflect on your choice 10 years from now as one of the greatest decisions you made for the city of Revere.”

Several members of the community also weighed in on the decision to build at Wonderland. Several residents who are career construction professionals and labor union leaders told councillors they were making the right choice in part because how construction would affect the surrounding neighborhood. They also assured the council that they had the best available contractors lined up for the job. Other residents who spoke took the opportunity to thank the council for reconsidering the original plan to build at Wonderland.

Mathew Terrell, acting chair of the Revere High Student Senate, gave the council and the audience one of the most convincing statements about the Wonderland school project. “Not often does a community have the chance to dramatically alter the course of its children’s success,” said Terrell. “Even less often in a community where the majority of students belong to historically oppressed and marginalized groups.”

Terrell listed some of the advantages of Wonderland and said a new school at that site would give all students, past, present and future, a sense of hope and pride. He also presented a petition with more than 900 signatures of residents who supported building the new school at Wonderland.

Now that the Council has settled the voting, the city, especially the mayor, will now face the task of figuring out how to pay for it. Much of that decision may come down to the outcome of an ongoing lawsuit filed in Feb. 2023 by the former property owners, which was taken by the city through eminent domain as the site for the new high school. The former owners, CBW Lending, are not happy with the $29.5 million the city will pay for the property, according to Attorney Peter Flynn, who along with Attorney Jason Scopa, claim the money the city offered for the property is inadequate and does not reflect the fair market value of the site.

The case is currently pending in Suffolk Superior Court.

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