Friends of the Middlesex Fells Reservation is dedicated to the conservation, appreciation, and sustainable enjoyment of the Fells. We have long been interested in preservation of open public land.
We are deeply concerned about:
- the Northeast Metropolitan Technical School District’s (NEMT’s) plans for a new facility to be sited on a forested hilltop site rather than a more accessible site on existing playing fields,
- the lack of transparency in the site selection process, and
- the lack of information provided to residents when they voted regarding the Building Committee’s final siting decision and lack of a separate ballot question on this significant decision.
In the site plans approved by the Building Subcommittee but revealed only after the 2022 Special Election, instead of using an existing road as access to “the site” abutting it, an entirely new entrance and one-half mile access road would be constructed next to wetlands, then carved through rock ledge, to a perched site scoured of trees and other living things, then blasted extensively to remove the hilltop covering many acres, creating a new “footprint” 60-feet above student parking and other student access to the new building.
For the January 2022 Special Election, information posted on the NEMT’s own website as well as reporting in The Boston Globe did not disclose that the Building Committee no longer intended to use the specific building site as recommended by the design consultant. Instead, the term “site” then began to be employed to mean “somewhere generally on the entire 60-acre site,” even though NEMT’s public-facing plans still showed the site as the playing field. Similarly, the materials circulated in support of the ballot item lacked sufficient detail for the public to know that the Forest was targeted.
A significant number of our members are residents and voters in the communities ultimately providing funding for site preparation and building construction, including cost overruns and other contingent expenses to maintain a completed project and comply with state and federal code, such as accessibility accommodations under Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and their continuing upkeep in all weather conditions from Hemlock Road to the new “site.”
The issue presented on the ballot was a matter of the financing, whether to accept funds from the Massachusetts School Building Authority and support the balance from the school systems served by NEMT. The need for the “New Voke” was supported by the longstanding pre-feasibility recommendation. Since the only documentation about the plan for the school was the pre-feasibility recommendation of using the playing fields, voters that were paying attention would reasonably believe that was the intent.
For the NEMT to then publicize their more financially and environmentally costly plan only after the vote can only be described as a bait and switch maneuver.
We stand with the Sierra Club-Massachusetts in its recent letter to the Massachusetts School Building Authority detailing the environmental value of this hilltop forest. The NEMT must also consider the quantifiable environmental services provided by a mature upland forest and the other benefits to human habitation it confers. It provides shade that cools ambient air temperatures for the surrounding areas, serves as a windbreak to extreme winds, presents structures and features that aid stormwater retention, erosion control, and groundwater recharge during extreme weather events, and provides a ready means for exchange and sequestration of atmospheric carbon, all in addition to the preserving relative tranquility and enjoyment of place by neighbors and the community at-large.
On behalf of our members, we join with the many voices opposing the current site plan. A well designed, suitably sited, and solidly constructed “New Voke” should be built on the first site proposed, with traffic access via the existing improved right of way, Hemlock Road.
Chris Redfern (he/him)
Friends of the Middlesex Fells Reservation