It was a new year at the Clark Avenue Middle School Wednesday morning, Aug. 29.
But it wasn’t just any new year.
It was the year that students poured through a brand new front door to the clean, sparkling hallways of a brand new $54 million school building with all of the most modern amenities that their old school – the former 110-year-old Chelsea High School – couldn’t provide.
“I really want to see the new gym; I can’t wait,” said William Bay, a 7th grader, as he waited outside his new school Wednesday morning. “I guess I just want to see all of the school. I’m excited about the whole thing. I think it will help me do better in school. I’m going to learn more here.”
For parents, the excitement was just as frenzied.
“I’m so excited,” said Bernice Reyes, who brought her two sixth graders for their first day. “I have a college graduate who went to the old Clark Ave. I remember that school. It couldn’t give these kids what this one will.”
Said Sara El-Mahil, a returning student, “It’s better than the old one for sure. The classroom are larger and all the water fountains will work now. I really like the space in the front where kids can hang out before school. Everything is going to be more organized.”
The Clark Ave began several years ago, with Phase 1 concluding in December 2016 and kids being welcomed into the new classroom portion along Tudor Street. This year, however, the entire school was opened to students – revealing a new gym, new music rooms, the library and numerous other amenities that completed the project.
“It’s a fantastic building,” said Principal Michael Talbot. “The kids are going to love it. The teachers are going to love the new options that this building gives them to teach the kids. Everyone’s excited.”
Supt. Mary Bourque and other district officials, including Gerry McCue – who shepherded the project through before retiring this year, were on hand to welcome students and parents.
“I am so proud of what the City has done here with this facility,” she said. “This was the right thing to do for the kids and the community.”
One of the most appreciated things on Wednesday morning for the students, parents and staff was the new, sprawling courtyard and outdoor amphitheatre at the corner of Tudor Street and Clark Avenue. The new space is still under construction, but was finished to the extent that it offered a great place to gather before school.
Previously, the school hugged the sidewalk, and there was little to no space for gathering.
The new outdoors space will support learning at the school, and will also be available for the community to use for things such as outdoor plays or movies.
Williams School sewer problems
The Williams School – home of the Browne Middle and Wright Middle Schools – experienced a heart-attack moment on Monday afternoon when a major sewer blockage threatened opening day.
Around 3 p.m. on Monday, the sewer backed up and caused a major problem in the school. All of the teachers getting prepared for the school year in the building were sent home.
Joe Cooney and his team at the Buildings and Grounds Department went to work on the problem and soon found that there was a huge cluster of baby wipes clogging the sewer pipe and drains.
“Joe’s team worked throughout the night washing and sanitizing everything and we were ready to be back in business Tuesday morning,” said Supt. Mary Bourque. “I am truly the luckiest and most grateful Superintendent for our dedicated and hard-working Buildings and Grounds department.”
The opening of the fully-completed Clark Avenue Middle School is just about one month away, and work crews are finishing up the final preparations to welcome students into the completed new school project – after more than three years and two phases of construction.
“I think we’re shooting for substantial completion by the middle of August,” said Gerry McCue of the Chelsea Schools. “Teachers go back on Aug. 27 and students come into the new school on Aug. 29. We expect to have the school operational then. There will be punch list items to get to, but nothing major will be left.”
The completion of Phase 2 will mark the end of the $57 million project that started under former City Manager Jay Ash, and was carried out by City Manager Tom Ambrosino and the School Department.
Already, Phase 1 opened in December 2017, and students and teachers have been using half of the school since that time. The former building, the Old Chelsea High, had been completely demolished earlier this year to make way for Phase 2.
Demolition of the other side of the old high school started in March 2015, when the project first got off the ground.
With the addition of the Phase 2 building, the school will be introduced to many of the amenities, including the gym, an auditorium, a small performance stage, the library, technology labs, art rooms, music rooms, an administrative suite and the new front courtyard facing Crescent and Clark Avenues.
“In addition to things like the gym, there will be a smaller performance space and things can be done on that stage and the cafeteria can be used for seating,” he said. “Larger productions can be done in the auditorium. That’s important because the Clark Ave is the feeder program for the Chelsea High Drama Club, so they have an emphasis on music and performing arts at the Clark Avenue.”
The courtyard will be a very welcome addition to the school and the neighborhood, he said. The space was designed to open up to Crescent and Clark Avenues so that the buildings are pushed back and the space seem more open and inviting. He said the possibilities are endless for the new space.
“We could do outdoor performances or in the summer the City could have a movie night for the neighborhood out there,” he said. “There will be seating and decking in the courtyard. There will also be a school garden there too. There has been a big emphasis on school gardens across the district and the Clark Ave will have one too.”
He said that the top floors are pretty much completed, and many classrooms are set up now. He said the bottom floor is still having work done – as the contractor started from the top and worked down.
As it is, the action is aplenty on the site as the final work is completed.
“There’s just a lot of activity there now and it will be non-stop until the first day of school,” he said.
The Clark Avenue School is expected to have 668 students when it opens in August.
It came as quite a surprise, but was much deserved, as Supt. Mary Bourque and Clark Avenue Middle School Principal Michael Talbot informed Clark Ave teacher Sally Siriani on May 31 that she was the Chelsea Rotary
Supt. Mary Bourque, Teacher of the Year Sally Siriani, and Clark Ave Principal Michael Talbot.
Teacher of the Year.
Siriani has spent 20 years in the district, all at the Clark Avenue Middle teaching math and science in grades 5 and 6.
“I love the kids,” she said. “I as born to do this. I put magnets on the refrigerator when I was little and pretended to grade homework papers. I played school all day. My friend Holly Correia, who now teaches in Revere, would always play school. We would take stuffed animals and put them in seats and play school all day long. I’m flattered and honored and shocked. It’s great to be recognized.”
Siriani grew up in Winthrop and attended Catholic Schools there, graduating from Winthrop High School in 1990. She attended Fitchburg State and then worked at the now-closed Assumption School in Chelsea. When it closed down, she was hired to be one of the first teachers in 1998 to come into the new Clark Avenue Middle School.
Previously, the building was used as Chelsea High School.
Current Supt. Mary Bourque was the assistant principal at the time and said that Siriani was the backbone of the school.
“Personally, I know Ms. Siriani from our early days at the Clark Avenue School and her deep devotion to providing the highest quality education for all students,” said Bourque. “I also remember the days when a new school was but a conversation for us all. Ms. Siriani has lived through another Clark Avenue Middle School milestone – construction – and is now teaching a new generation of students in the new building that we used to only dream about in 1998.”
Principal Talbot said her strength is building relationships with her students.
“She collaborates with the other Math teacher at her grade level in order to best meet the needs of all of her students,” he said. “She regularly uses pre-assessments to see where the gaps are and flexibly groups her students in differentiated activities in order to help them with the mastery of the skills that are required. She also asks students to self-assess themselves, set realistic and challenging goals, and then plans thoughtful learning activities for all of her students. She works incredibly hard on behalf of her students and she is able to build strong relationships with her students, as evidenced by so many coming back to see her each year.”
Siriani was to be honored at the Rotary Lunch on Tuesday, June 5.
STABBING ON MARLBOROUGH
Chelsea Police reported a stabbing at a home on Marlborough Street Saturday morning.
Police reported that the situation was a domestic incident between a father and stepson and the victim was taken to the hospital and treated.
He was injured in the stabbing, but is expected to recover.
STABBING ON CHESTNUT, OR MAYBE EL SALVADOR?
On Sunday, April 3, officers responded to the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC) on a report of a past victim of an armed robbery and assault. The victim was reported to be under the influence of alcohol and could not remember where or when the incident happened, except that it was on Chestnut Street by a black male he knows but could not name or describe.
At one point, he stated the incident took place in El Salvador.
He received and was treated for a puncture wound to his hand. He claimed he was robbed of $300 in cash.
On April 4, at 9:40 p.m. officers responded to a call from an off-duty officer who had information that individuals were involved in “stripping” a car for parts. The officers responded to 121 Cark Ave. based on the information relayed by the off-duty officer. Officers were able to converge on the address and observed several car parts. The officers received information that the individuals involved were down the street in a Ford Expedition at Clark and Eleanor Streets. The officers detained and arrested both parties.
The police also recovered a stolen Honda Civic that the parts were taken from. One of those arrested was wearing a court ordered monitoring bracelet.
Ivan Reyes, 22, of 81 Central Ave., and Edwin Wilfredo Carnona, 18, of Revere, face receiving stolen property as well as larceny of a motor vehicle charges.
On Monday, April 11, at approximately 2:20 p.m. Chelsea 911 received several reports of a vehicle striking a building at the intersection of Clark and Webster Avenues.
Chelsea Fire and Police, along with Cataldo Ambulance, were immediately dispatched to the scene. It was reported that a pickup truck operating down Clark Avenue towards Webster allegedly lost its brakes and jumped the curb striking a fence and stone retaining wall of 76 Webster Ave. and then became airborne striking a parked vehicle on Webster Avenue and finally coming to rest against the building at 77 Webster Ave. causing extensive structural damage.
The operator did not appear to be injured. However, the vehicle suffered heavy front-end damage and a ruptured gas tank.
Chelsea firefighters mitigated the gas leak and spread absorbent on the area and remained on scene until ISD Building Inspectors deemed the building to be safe.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino has put in a request to the City Council for an appraisal of a home at 29 Tudor St. – next to the new Clark Avenue School.
Ambrosino said he would like the City to take the property by eminent domain if, and only if, the owner is amendable to the deal. He said the new school project is just too close to her property and would be a real hardship upon her.
“She’s in a tough spot,” he said of the owner. “Even after construction is completed, she’ll be very, very close to the dumpster, the music room and the loading dock. She’s right on top of this project, unfortunately, in a way that no other abutter is.”
Ambrosino requested $2,500 for the appraisal, which is the first step towards acquisition of the property.
He wrote the Council that he saw the property as problematic from his first days.
“I have been convinced form my first days here that this house should be considered for acquisition, provided that the owner was amendable,” he wrote. “In recent conversations, the owner of 29 Tudor St. has indicated at least a willingness to consider a purchase by the City. But, before any serious discussions about acquisition can occur, the City needs an independent appraisal.”
Ambrosino said there is no guarantee that t
This home on Tudor Street is literally engulfed by the Clark Avenue School, and City Manager Tom Ambrosino
is advocating the taking of the property if terms can be agreed upon with the owner.
he City will be able to reach an agreement with the owner. He also said they will not proceed without her permission.
Oftentimes, land takings are necessary when working on an urban school project. However, they are more expensive than a traditional sale price and are not reimbursable with state funds. That would mean any costs incurred from any possible taking would fall on the City’s portion of the project budget.
The City Council voted unanimously on Monday night for a bond authorization to build a new Clark Avenue Middle School at a cost of $57,332,407 – with some 65 percent of those costs coming from the state School Building Authority (SBA).
The vote has been preceded with about two year’s worth of meetings and design charrettes and good old number crunching.
In the end, all 10 councillors voted to authorize the bonding and send it to the next step. Councillor Joe Perlatonda was absent from the vote, but has supported the school project.
Councillors Chris Cataldo and Brian Hatleberg have been working closely with the School Committee and the School Department to work out the design and the financing during the interim.
Both were very big supporters of the project.
“This is the big one,” said Hatleberg. “We have capacity to borrow all of the local share, but there are some options we’ll likely take advantage of to make it cheaper…While I’m discouraged about the cost we have to bear the burden of locally, it is what it is.”
Cataldo thanked all of the officials and councillors who have participated in the process to get the school to this point.
The last school project in Chelsea was close to 20 years ago.
“This project is just as important as any project we’ve talked about in the last 10 years,” said Councillor Calvin Brown. “If we want to provide the highest quality education for our kids, we’ll make sure this gets done soon.”
Councillor Dan Cortell also voiced his support for the school and said that despite the cost, he’s all for it.
The actual cost of the school’s local share is $19.7 million, with the state picking up $37.6 million of that share.
So far, design is at about 50 percent right now.
The construction would come in two phases, with the older part of the school coming down first while students are on summer vacation. That would go into an 18 month construction period on the three story classroom wing that runs along Crescent Avenue. The remaining part of the school would be demolished during summer vacation, and that would lead into having a one-year construction on the gym, cafeteria and administrative offices.
Students would be housed by grade on each of the three floors, and wouldn’t have to travel unless going to the library, gym or cafeteria.
It is designed for 670 students, which is about 120 more than the school currently houses. Some of the upgrades include:
- 28 general classrooms
- 4 science labs
- 2 ELL Classrooms (not currently at the Clark)
- 20 Small Group/Reading Rooms
- 1 Art Room, 1 Music Room and 1 Band room
- 2 Technology rooms
- Gym (same size)
- Performance Space (1.5 times larger)
- Library (2.5 times larger)
- Cafeteria (4 times larger)
- There is, however, no parking
“It’s going to be a longer construction period, but we expect kids to be in the new building in the fall of 2018,” said Margaret Wood of Pinck & Company, the City’s project manager.
The other discussion point – which doesn’t have to be decided until next year – is how to finance the project.
The City has the capacity to bond the entirety of the local share and still only have to pay $1 million in debt service per year. That was a plan affectionately called the “$1 million Plan” by Treasurer Bob Boulrice.
Assistant City Manager Ned Keefe said Chelsea is unique in that it has very low debt and can handle more.
“We have $24 million outstanding in General Obligation bonds right now,” said Keefe. “This will add to that debt, but the good news is our debt load is extremely low for a city of Chelsea’s size.”
That said, the problem with bonding the full share is that it will end up costing just over $30.9 million over the full term, including interest.
Boulrice said they took the challenge to find a way to infuse Free Cash year by year in order to lower the costs. By using $2 million in Free Cash or Stabilization Funds per year through construction, the City would save $5 million in borrowing and the full cost with interest would go down to $19.6 million.
“I can also say there are even better plans than this,” he said. ‘Based on what happens in the future, there are even more savings we could have…If things hold as they have held and revenues hold solid, the contributions you see here can go forward and the levels we want to see in the Stabilization Fund can be held…It looks good, but a new administration may come in and want to do a lot of new things.”
School officials said the next step now will be working on detailed construction documents and preparing to remove asbestos next year from the older portion of the school.
In filings submitted to the state School Building Authority (MSBA) late last week, Chelsea School officials revealed that the preferred option for the Clark Avenue Middle School was to tear down the old structure and replace it with a completely new building.
The historic building is now a middle school, but for decades was the City’s high school.
“Our preferred option was to build a new school on the same site,” said Gerald McCue of the School Department. “There were a couple of reasons. It had a lower cost because it would be accomplished a little quicker than a renovation. Because the new school can be fit to our educational needs, it would also support the educational program better. If we renovate, we have to adapt to existing spaces and we would always have to live with those constraints. The school was designed 100 years ago and if we renovated the old school, there would be shortcomings we would have to live with.”
He said another reason was due to maintenance costs and improved utility efficiencies in a new building.
“From a maintenance perspective, the new school would bring lower costs because it will be more efficient,” he said.
The current estimate for a new building on the site is around $60 million and the school would be built for 670 students. McCue said the City would qualify for state reimbursements, but they would only equal about 60 or 70 percent of total costs due to caps on construction.
“They do have a lot of caps and the biggest cap is they have construction costs at $275 per square foot,” he said. “New construction is coming in closer to $320 per square foot or higher right now. There was a time during the recession when costs were down because there wasn’t a lot of construction. Now, there is a lot of pent up demand as things pick up and costs have gone up.”
The Clark Avenue Building Committee and the Chelsea School Committee have also endorsed the plan.
One option that was being seriously considered last month was a combination of building new and renovating the old building.
That, however, proved too costly and would have resulted in trying to figure out what to do with students in the school while renovations were being done. With the new-build option, he said the building would be demolished and built in phases – just as was done with the Williams School.
He said they would likely concentrate on the classroom and teaching spaces first, and then move on to amenities like the gym, cafeteria and science labs.
One issue brought up at last Thursday’s School Committee meeting was the historic value of the old building. Many on the Committee had concerns about losing the architecture and the memories from the old building – as decades of Chelsea residents graduated high school from that building. In weighing nostalgia versus educational needs, the Committee decided to go with the new construction alternative.
“The buildings we have that are newer perform best for us,” said McCue. “The ELC was kept for nostalgia reasons, but the newer buildings seem to work better because they provide parking and there is no parking at the ELC. You have certain constrictions within a renovation that you don’t have in a new building.”
He said the historical argument, though, hasn’t been lost on the architects – who have been charged with keeping certain elements of the old building within the new building – such as the columns and lettering on the old front door.
“Our architects are tuned into this and I think people will be pleased with how they keep a line to the old building,” he said.
Another aspect of the matter is actually the largest aspect – funding the school. In the best case scenario right now, the City would be on the hook for $18 million of the $60 million estimated price. City Councillors and City Manager Jay Ash are now tasked with thinking about how and if the City can afford such a purchase.
A Committee of the Council will form shortly and McCue said there would have to be some hard discussions about funding the school.
Meanwhile, School officials expect the state MSBA to review their full application and put it before its Board for a vote in November. Once approved at the state level, it will be up to the City to begin figuring how how to pay for things.