Excited middle school students at the brand new Clark Avenue School ran in the front door as the 8:05 a.m. bell rang and the new school opened up. The new Clark Ave fully opened to students on Wednesday morning, Aug. 29, bringing phase 1 and phase 2 together – complete with a new gym, a new music room and an exciting outdoor courtyard space. Excited parents, students and school staff gathered in the new courtyard before school started – buzzing with excitement over having a new term start in a new building with all of the amenities.
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.
The Board of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (SBA) gave the okay Wednesday morning of the Feasibility Study plan created by the Chelsea Public Schools for the new Clark Avenue Middle School.
“It was a big step,” said Gerry McCue of the Chelsea Schools. “There are a lot of benchmarks in this process and this is definitely a big benchmark under our belt.”
He said the next phase will include much more detailed architectural work. It is known as the Schematic Design Phase.
“The next phase is to do a schematic design of the project,” he said. “That is not construction documents, but it is very close to construction documents. It shows how the project can go from a concept to something that can really work on the site. It requires the architects to do a lot more work and show the floor plans, the classroom layouts, open spaces, amenities, the way to get people in and out of the building and a loading dock. It has to show how it will make sense on the footprint.”
The Feasibility study began earlier this fall when the schools began meeting with parents at the Clark Avenue – as well as with staff members and the Clark Ave School Building Committee.
After a prolonged process – and an exhausting look at every single option available – the schools came up with a preferred design, which is what was approved Wednesday morning.
That design is to build a new school on the site of the existing Clark Avenue Middle School – which was formerly the old Chelsea High School.
As they begin to work on the next phase, McCue said they will also begin meeting with the City Council.
Councillor Brian Hatleberg told the Record that an initial meeting has been set up for Tuesday, Nov. 26, to review the school plans.
“The Council’s engagement in this process will be starting now,” he said.
McCue said they are excited to bring the Council into the discussion and to begin talking about funding the City’s portion of the school. Chelsea will likely get a very generous contribution towards building the school from the state, but there will still be a portion that will have to be paid for by Chelsea taxpayers.
“That will be a big thing for the City to see how they can look at the funding of this and make the City portion a reality,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the Monday meeting because it will give us a chance to bring the Council up to speed…The Council hasn’t had the same level of attention yet, but we will provide them with plenty of information at the Monday meeting. We’ll show all the options we looked at and why we thought this was the best for the educational program and the City’s ability to pay its portion.”
The meeting will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 26, at 6 p.m. in Chelsea City Hall.
A City Council Committee of the Whole will meet in the near future to begin a discussion on funding the proposed Clark Avenue Middle School project.
The project is currently in the final stages of the state School Building Authority (MSBA) process, but a final plan has been submitted. It calls for a brand new school on the same site at an estimated cost of about $60 million – with the City being responsible for as much as $18 million after state reimbursements.
To date, the discussion has been around designs and educational plans. Now, however, the discussion begins to turn to the more serious subject of paying for the project.
Councillor Brian Hatleberg said they have scheduled a meeting for the discussion, but it hasn’t happened yet.
“This has been going on for quite some time with the School Committee and the Building Committee, but now it’s time for the Council to come in and be part of the discussion,” he said. “It’s still new news in a lot of ways and we’re going to work on it and figure out what can be done. We need a new school. There’s not a lot of wiggle room on that. I think we have to take a closer look at it. In other words, we won’t sacrifice quality and we will figure out how to get this down as efficiently as possible.”
He said the Council’s involvement is still just at the beginning stages, but he expects the school funding issue to be a major point of discussion throughout the fall.
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.