January 14, 2013: Nine years ago (October 2004) the Town of Belmont submitted to the Massachusetts School Building Authority a “Master Plan and Feasibility Study for Renovations to Belmont High School.” That plan envisioned a phased but single-project renovation to the high school, a building opened as a new facility in 1971. After the reorganization of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), the Town submitted an addendum to the plan calling for the addition of a wing devoted to the sciences. Each year since October 2004 the Town has revised and updated its Statement of Interest. Following an initial approval of a project plan by MSBA, a Town then authorizes a project feasibility study in accord with MSBA guidelines; and if all goes well, including a vote by the Town for a capital debt exclusion, then the project gets underway with somewhat less than a third of the cost borne by the Commonwealth.
The case for renovating and expanding Belmont High School is compelling. While the building remains safe, the auditorium has torn and squeaking seats that cannot be replaced without major renovation to the floor and room. The classrooms are outdated, and the science rooms suffer from a lack of preparation space or adequate work tables. The floor of the field house needs to be replaced. While informational technology has become a part of general operations, the building does not support or sustain the kind of wiring and infrastructure necessary for teaching and learning in the 21st century. The location of departmental offices isolates teachers from one another and complicates efforts to build integrated cross-disciplinary curricula. Most structural systems, including boilers and water heaters, are out-of-date.
Working with a small advisory group consisting of high school personnel, former and present school committee members, and representatives of Town boards, the School Department is developing a new Statement of Interest to submit to MSBA against an April 10 deadline. The Statement requires approval by the Select Board, and a proposal will go before the Board in March. The recent NEASC (New England Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges) accreditation report, once finally drafted, will place the high school on “Warning” because of the condition of the building. If all goes well, the Town should learn by late summer if the long wait to proceed with the project has a green light.