At the November election, we have a long-awaited opportunity to address the critical need to replace Belmont High School. What many people don’t yet realize is that, after years of careful study and community input, the project has now become a solution to Belmont’s other pressing school crisis of overcrowding.
Belmont’s school enrollment has grown by 715 students in seven years, which is nearly the combined enrollment of the Burbank and Butler Elementary Schools or more than half the enrollment of Belmont High School. Adding two schools’ worth of students has strained our system beyond its physical means, and no enrollment relief is in sight.
According to School Superintendent John Phelan, the school system will soon need a total of 48 temporary modular classrooms (for well over 1,000 students) while filling school gyms, art and music rooms, libraries and cafeterias beyond their capabilities. This is not an enrollment “bubble;” two separate demographic studies show that these enrollment numbers are the “new normal” for Belmont.
For more than 10 years, Belmont applied for state funds to address our obsolescent high school with no luck. Now the Massachusetts State Building Authority has awarded $80 million for a new grade 7-12 school that will solve our overcrowding problem system wide by creating a new middle school wing as part of the building project. This shift makes it possible to free up space in all of our schools — elementary, middle and high schools. The new 7-12 school will prevent Belmont’s school system from relying on 48 temporary modular classrooms as permanent classrooms for over 1,000 students and providing no solution for the unworkable shared spaces.
This vote of confidence from the state is contingent on a vote in Belmont. Unless voters support a debt exclusion for the new 7-12 school on Nov. 6, the $80 million grant will be lost to Belmont and awarded to a school project elsewhere. Not only will our high school need to be replaced without state funds but the cost of a solution to our overcrowding problem at all Belmont’s schools will skyrocket.
I urge you to vote yes for the new Belmont 7-12 school on Nov. 6.
Kate Searle, Beech Street