Published in the Belmont Citizen-Herald.
Imagine this. You are a freshman at Belmont High School. Your physics class ends and you have a free period. You decide to get a head start on your homework.
You go to the library but the librarian tells you that the library is full. I know, they took out most of the books from the library to make room for more kids to sit down but it’s still full. Next …
So you head to the cafeteria but you can’t get in because the cafeteria is full. It was built for 460 students and it now has to serve up to 700 students at once. There isn’t even enough room for all of the kids who need to eat lunch. Next …
So you look for a bench in a hallway — you know, those benches that parents paid for so students would have a place to sit. But nope — they’re all taken. Next …
So you decide to sit on the floor by your locker but when you turn the corner, you find several project teams in the hallway. There wasn’t enough room in their classroom, so several groups are working on the floor.
By now, your free period is over and you have to go back to class. Maybe you’ll be able to find a seat next time.
On Nov. 6, Belmont voters will decide whether to fund the Belmont 7-12 School to replace the old Belmont High School.
What’s wrong with the building we have?
The problems with the physical plant are what you might expect from an old building.
• The ceiling is full of asbestos
• Electrical systems are original, outdated and hard to maintain
• Leaking plumbing causes significant school disruption
• Science labs were deemed antiquated 20 years ago
• The roof needs another replacement and windows leak with every rainstorm
• There are no fire sprinklers — a safety hazard — but they weren’t required in 1971
• The elevator is so small that students in wheelchairs cannot get to the second floor — one of many ways the building is not Americans with Disabilities Act compliant
The building needs an overhaul.
And it’s a money pit. The town has been forced to spend millions in recent years to replace systems and address safety issues — money that we are throwing away on a building that needs replacing.
Overcrowding and enrollment
Enrollment in Belmont schools is growing by more than 100 students every year — and will reach 5,000 students by 2025 (projected).
Let’s put that in context. Twenty years ago, the graduating class had 220 students. Last year’s third grade had 388 students. Those third-graders aren’t in Belmont High School yet but they are headed there and we don’t have anywhere to put them.
To address the system-wide problem, storage closets have been converted to classrooms and every nook and cranny has been “repurposed.”
In addition, we have purchased 16 modular classrooms but we will soon need an additional 32 “mods” to keep up with enrollment growth. That would be 1,200 Belmont students in “temporary” classrooms — nearly the size of our entire high school.
And make no mistake about it — overcrowding impacts students.
• In high school, science labs are dangerously overcrowded for students working with fire and chemicals — a safety hazard
• In middle school, 100 students cram into one small gym and 160 students sing in one gigantic chorus — that’s crowd control, not education
• In elementary school, students are tutored in lobbies — noisy, public lobbies.
Overcrowding is a crisis
In 2012, Belmont High School’s accreditation was put on warning by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, calling it a “crisis” that our building “does not support the delivery of programs.”
New Massachusetts curriculum standards require flexible spaces with room for collaboration, hands-on projects, technology and more. The size and inflexibility of BHS classrooms and labs make it really hard to teach the skills required by the state.
Our school building impairs learning.
But we can fix it.
The new Belmont 7-12 School solves all of these problems, while also fixing overcrowding at all six Belmont Schools for all 5,000 children.
The choice is clear. Vote “yes” on Question No. 4 on Nov. 6.