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What’s Wrong With the Old School?

The Building

The old Belmont High School is almost 50 years old – with original electrical systems, failing plumbing, antiquated science labs, safety issues, lack of ADA accessibility, asbestos, no sprinklers, and more – and needs a major renovation.

What’s wrong with the building?
  • The mechanical, electrical and ventilation systems are original – vintage 1971. It is expensive to maintain and becoming hard to find parts.
  • The plumbing regularly leaks, and toilets spill over and spread into the hallways.
  • Because of the hazardous materials (asbestos) in the ceiling, fixing these leaks can take many weeks. The area has to be sealed off and handled by specialists in order to prevent exposure to hazardous materials.
  • The science labs are antiquated and do not meet modern science standards. In addition, overcrowding in these rooms, where students regularly use fire and chemicals, poses a serious safety hazard.
  • The building is not designed for modern security standards.
  • Leaky windows throughout the building are resolved with nearby buckets.
  • The roof was replaced in sections about 20 years ago, and it is coming due for another replacement.
  • The building does not have sprinklers — they weren’t required in 1971 when the old building was constructed. Sprinklers don’t stop fires, but they do provide the precious extra minutes that allow people — children — to get out of the building.
  • The building is not ADA compliant – i.e. it does not provide the handicapped accessibility required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. For example, the elevator is too small for a motorized wheelchair, which means students cannot access the entire second floor of the building. All of their classes are relocated to the first floor, but they cannot go see a science, math or foreign language teacher.
Does it need to be fixed now?

Two external agencies evaluated and validated Belmont High School’s critical needs, and they agree that these problems must be fixed now.

In 2012, the school accreditation agency put Belmont High School on warning, saying:

“The building and physical plant are at the point of crisis … the building infrastructure is outdated and does not support delivery of programs.” – New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)

Belmont High School remains on warning until the building issues are addressed. Every two years, Belmont has to report to NEASC regarding our status in addressing their concerns. All minor issues have already been addressed. NEASC is closely watching this building program to see that the issues are addressed.

In 2016, after ten years of failed applications, the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) chose Belmont High School as one of the most critical school projects in the Massachusetts. The MSBA chooses only 15-20 schools per year for this program, out of 80-100 applicants. Only a few are high schools. Given high demand and limited resources, the MSBA scrutinizes every application. They chose us because they judged Belmont High School to be one of their highest priorities.

I wouldn’t tear down my house after 50 years; why the school?
  • First, we are keeping 64,000 square feet of the old building – including the field house and pool. They are in good condition and continue to serve us well.
  • In this case, it is cheaper and more effective to replace significant portions of the building, rather than renovate and expand. There is a long list of pervasive problems – not just equipment, but also wiring, plumbing and ductwork inside the walls. The building needs to comply with ADA and current building codes. The building must be bigger and reconfigured. Detailed analysis during the feasibility study concluded that this is the most fiscally responsible solution.
  • A new school has a longer lifespan. At approximately the same cost (for the same size school), a new school is a better investment.
  • Construction of a new school is less disruptive for students and residents. Students will remain in the old building until the new high school wing is ready. The project will be shorter and cheaper, and students will not be relocated.
  • Houses have relatively light usage, with everyone gone or sleeping most of the day, compared to heavy usage for a high school with 1,500 kids beating on it 6 hours/day for almost 50 years. Fifty years in the life of a school is much more demanding than 50 years in the life of a house.

Belmont Buzz: Yes for Belmont

Host Joanna Tzouvelis speaks with Yes For Belmont campaign members Ellen Schreiber and Jessie Bennett. They discuss the problems with the old Belmont High School; the economics of the debt exclusion; and the benefits of the proposed 7-12 school.

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Belmont Needs the New 7-12 School

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.

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Keeping Belmont’s Children Safe

From the front door to the science labs to the stoplight on Concord Avenue, decisions on the Belmont 7-12 School project have been made with the safety and security of Belmont’s children as the highest priority.

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