Appropriations Committee Approves Funding for Modular Classrooms

Last night, the Appropriations Committee of the Board of Aldermen unanimously approved my Administration’s proposed plan to add modular classrooms at both the Winthrop and Hoover Schools, as well as a renovation of the Horace Mann School. This was a critical vote to ensure adequate space and educational equity across our school district for the foreseeable future. I want to thank all of our dedicated teachers and school staff, members of the Board of Aldermen, Superintendent Taymore, our school principals, members of the Permanent School Building Committee, City staff, and the hundreds of parents throughout the City that were involved in this process and gave valuable feedback and comments.

I truly feel this project is a textbook example of how major decision making should work at the local level. As a City, we were presented with a problem. From there, a number of potential solutions were brought forward by our Superintendent of Schools. Public forums were then held with all stakeholders gathering additional information and comments. From there, proposals were then brought back to teachers and staff for their insight. Based on that feedback, the proposed solution changed and evolved to the point that was reached last night.

I have also included below my remarks to the Board of Aldermen from last night’s meeting.

Dear Members of the Board of Aldermen,

Tonight you will take a critically important vote to address space needs and educational equity for the Melrose Public Schools, now and for the next several decades. To recap, over the last several years the Melrose Public Schools have been making necessary adjustments to space and operations to meet the needs of escalating class sizes in the earlier grades. This also included the funding of a demographic study and a space and needs assessment. After much deliberation, the Superintendent presented several options for consideration at a public meeting at the Lincoln School last fall. Many of you took part in that meeting.

It was decided by the School Committee, unanimously supported by the Melrose Permanent Building Committee, and was the overwhelming choice of the public, that the best solution would be the modular option, accompanied by a renovation of the Horace Mann School. As you are aware, the Board of Aldermen debated the issue and the options presented publicly and at length and voted unanimously to fund full architectural designs of the modulars as well as the Horace Mann renovations. We held individual meetings for Hoover, Winthrop, and Horace Mann parents and neighbors to discuss those plans, and during those meetings we collected their input. We made some changes as a result of that input. That stage of the project has been completed, and bids for the modular portion of the project have been received.

At the meeting to fund the architectural designs, we spoke to uncertainty in the modular market, as this has become an option that has been aggressively pursued by many communities in our region as well as throughout the country. Because of the limited number of companies in this line of work, as well as the lack of historic pricing, we were concerned about cost. I spoke publicly about this challenge, and it was a concern of the School Committee as well as we discussed the bids. It should also be noted that site work at the Winthrop School needed to be adjusted to improve drainage, and sewer and drainage upgrades needed to be added at the Hoover School as well. Both investments will correct infrastructure issues that were causing problems on the respective campuses and allow for the best placement of the modular. As a result, the modular bid came in higher than we wanted. However, after careful review, we found the bids to be fair and very competitive, involving two of the most respected companies in the field. The Horace Mann portion of the project, which is a more traditional construction project that we have replicated many times in the City of Melrose, will go out to bid in March. The projected cost is included in this order. We feel very confident in the cost estimate for the Horace Mann, as the price points for each part of the Horace Mann project can be easily researched and estimated.

In conclusion, I ask for your support of this order for the following reasons

  1. The modular portion of this project must be completed by September 1, since there is not enough space in the Melrose Public Schools to meet the needs of next year’s incoming elementary classes. This Board and the School Committee carefully reviewed every option, and it was evident that the modular option was the best and most cost effective option. It remains the best and most cost effective option.
  2. Interest rates are on the rise, and we are still able to capture the best interest rates for these projects before any significant changes occur.
  3. Construction costs are on the rise and will continue to rise, so we are capturing the best available prices for these projects.
  4. The team assembled today is the same team that has brought in every school project that this City has done over the last 13 years. Each of these projects has been of incredible quality, on budget, and on time. The experience and track record of success is there.
  5. For $5.95 million we are able to provide enough space for the foreseeable future, build permanent structures that will last for over half a century, improve the sites of these school buildings (including infrastructure), and make the necessary renovations to the Horace Mann School to provide equitable educational services, improved handicap accessibility, and security on a par with the other neighborhood schools. The price tag of doing this work through structural additions would be in the tens of millions of dollars.
  6. This option allows us to maintain our neighborhood school concept, a true middle school, and a traditional 9-12 high school without shoehorning students that might not be socially, emotionally, or educationally ready for a jump from fourth grade to the middle school and from seventh grade to Melrose High School. I am unequivocally opposed to that move.

A project of this scope, although necessary, comes with financial realities that have to be dealt with. Our commitment tonight limits significant borrowing over the next few years but I feel, as does our Chief Financial Officer, that the City of Melrose is in a position to make this investment and in fact must make this investment.

I ask for your approval.