Framingham City Councilor Adam Steiner recalls that during his senior year in high school, in 1990-91, the Framingham North High School building was chosen for what would be a new merged high school. Steiner explained in a recent Letter to the Editor the choice was made because the North facility was in better physical condition, and yet “more than 25 years later, the South High building is still in operation as a middle school.”
And indeed it is. The Flagg Drive building, now more than 60 years old, has well-documented structural deficiencies, inefficient operating systems and an outdated layout that’s not conducive to modern-day “STEAM” (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) learning.
That isn’t just the opinion of Framingham school advocates, by the way. It’s also the assessment given by the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the state agency tasked with overseeing and supporting school improvement projects. It’s also the same agency that has twice denied previous proposals to help fund a new Fuller Middle School.
But on Tuesday, Framingham voters have an opportunity to change that. On that day, they’ll head to the polls for a special election to weigh in on a $98.3 million plan to construct a new Fuller Middle School, adjacent to the existing building. Construction would start next summer, with completion targeted for 2021.
The new school, designed to house about 630 students in grades 6-8, would feature three floors, with a learning commons/cafeteria at the building’s core. That area would be surrounded by a perimeter of classrooms, as well as a 8,300-square-foot gymnasium and 420-seat auditorium. The building would feature full air conditioning.
Residents will be asked to vote on a debt exclusion, and we don’t pretend that its cost is insignificant. The total bill of the school is estimated at $98.3 million, with the state kicking in $39.5 million and local taxpayers ponying up the remaining $58.8 million. The local portion would be funded through a 20-year bond, with the average Framingham taxpayer expected to see about a $101 annual boost in his or her property tax bill.
Again, we don’t dismiss the cost. Much of the dissension we’ve encountered for this project has focused on tax impact. But we would argue that local officials have been diligent in addressing this issue. For example, when the project’s estimated cost ballooned to more than $112 million this past summer, the School Building Committee voted to decrease the size of the auditorium from 750 to 420 seats, which shaved $3.3 million in expenses. Furthermore, the city has socked away $8 million in stabilization funds that it intends to apply to the local share of the bill, trimming the size of the bond to less than $51 million.
Dissenters should also be aware that a failure to build a new school will require pouring a largely unpredictable amount of funds into maintenance and repairs. After all, old buildings only get older. A new school would eventually be needed, and it will certainly be more costly than this proposal.
As state Senate President Karen Spilka said, the proposed new school represents “a generational opportunity to ensure a fiscally responsible, first-class learning environment for the students and teachers of today and tomorrow.”
We couldn’t agree more. The time is now, Framingham. Do your children proud, and vote “Yes” on Tuesday for a new Fuller Middle School.