by Ellen Schreiber and Sara Masucci

On November 6, Belmont voters will decide whether to fund a much-needed new school – the Belmont 7-12 School – to replace the old Belmont High School and address an urgent, town-wide problem with enrollment.

It’s a big decision.

The new school – actually two schools in one – has a high school wing for grades 9-12 and a separate middle school wing for grades 7-8.

It’s a brilliant solution to the town’s skyrocketing enrollment problem.

At all levels, our schools are dramatically overcrowded and spilling out into temporary, modular classrooms – 16 of them, actually.

If we build the new 7-12 school and shift a few grades, we create enough space in all of our school buildings for all of the town’s children – from kindergarten through 12th grade.

With one project, we completely solve the overcrowding problem – town-wide – for all 5,000 children.

Even without overcrowding, we would still need to replace the BHS building. It is on warning from school accreditors. It doesn’t support new state curriculum requirements. There are problems with asbestos, electrical and mechanical systems, plumbing, safety and security, the roof and windows, accessibility, and more.

This one project fixes all of that.

There’s more good news. Belmont was chosen to receive an $80 million state grant to help build the school.

That’s $80,000,000 given to Belmont by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

These state grants are one-time only, use-it-or-lose-it.

If you don’t believe it, just ask Lincoln. In 2012, Lincoln voters rejected a project that would have cost taxpayers $28 million, and they lost their $21 million state grant. Six years later, now without state money, they are bringing another school project to voters – but now the price tag for taxpayers is $93 million. The consequences of “kicking the can down the road” are dramatic.

The state also serves as a financial watchdog. They scrutinize our plans every step of the way. They want their money well spent. No bells. No whistles. Just a basic, 21st century school.

Even so, high schools are expensive.

Arlington just selected a design for a new high school with a $308 million price tag.

Two years ago, Waltham’s plan for a new school was estimated to cost $283-300 million, but they struggled with site selection. They have now chosen a site, and with construction costs rising by 4% every year, the updated project cost will be well over $300 million.

Belmont’s 7-12 school is cheaper than both of our neighbors’ 9-12 schools – at $295 million – and it serves more children than either of them (2,215 vs. 1,755 and 1,830, respectively).

Our school costs less money for more students.

But don’t forget the state grant. Remove the $80 million, and $2 million already spent on design, and the new Belmont 7-12 School will cost taxpayers $213 million.

Yes, that’s still a lot of money. But there is no cheaper alternative.

Friends have asked: Why can’t we do a simple renovation?  Why can’t we use modular classrooms? The answer: Because it doesn’t solve all of the problems.

A side note on modulars: We have already bought 16 modular classrooms, and we will soon need 32 more to keep up with enrollment growth. That would be 1,200 students in “temporary” classrooms – or ¼ of all Belmont students – permanently!

The school superintendent has outlined what he will do if we don’t build the new Belmont 7-12 School.

  • Buy 32 modular classrooms to bridge the gap – $24 million
  • Renovate and expand Chenery Middle School – $20 million
  • Renovate and expand Belmont High School – $203 million

That’s $247 million.

With no state grant.

If we vote yes, we will spend $213 million and fix the entire problem in five years. Done.

If we vote no, Belmont taxpayers will need to spend more money – $247 million – for an inferior solution that disrupts the entire town for 10-15 years.

The choice is clear. Vote Yes on Question #4 on November 6.