Top boards in joint meeting

Dec 5, 2018 by

Published December 5, 2018


WAKEFIELD — No one could say for sure when the Town Council and the School Committee last met in joint session, but members of both boards agreed last night that it had been too long and they should do it more often.

The two groups met in joint session last night at the Walton School to talk over a number of topics. There were no plans to take any votes last night, but that changed during a discussion of civics education when School Committee member Greg Liakos read aloud a proposed joint proclamation condemning racism, anti-Semitism and all forms of hate speech. Members of both boards expressed an eagerness to adopt it immediately. Both the Town Council and the School Committee took separate unanimous votes supporting the sentiments in the proclamation. The proclamation will be forwarded to the Human Rights Commission for their approval.

A primary reason for holding the joint meeting at the newly renovated Walton School was to recognize those who played major roles in the seeing the renovation project through, especially the Permanent Building Committee and former School Superintendent Dr. Kim Smith, who returned for last night’s meeting.

Permanent Building Committee Chairman Joseph Bertrand noted that the Walton project came in under budget and just two days late.

“We are very pleased with the work that was done here,” Bertrand said. “It’s amazing that we started in January and finished in August.”

FOURTH GRADE students at the Walton gave tours of the upgraded school to the community last night. Pictured are School Committee member Colleen Guida, Phoebe Corcell, Lucy Whalen, Felicity Corcell, and surprise guest Dr. Kim Smith. (Colleen Riley Photo)

Dr. Smith was School Superintendent when the Walton project started. She said that she had not seen the building since she retired last June and joked that she had only come for the post-meeting building tour. She expressed amazement at the improvements and offered her congratulations to all.

Current School Superintendent Doug Lyons called the renovated school “an amazing space for students of the Walton School, noting that it brings the school up to 2018 standards. He said that the project would not have been possible without cooperation between the School Department and town government.

Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio added that the Walton project had the unanimous support of the Town Council, the School Committee and the Finance Committee. He observed that the community essentially got a brand-new school for $6 million without a Proposition 2 1/2 override. He gave due credit to the Permanent Building Committee for their vigilance in seeing the project through.

Several neighbors of the Walton School did speak to the joint board meeting last night. Carmen Pastore of Eustis Avenue talked about the pluses and minuses of living near a school. He asked that an outside light be adjusted so that its light would not spread beyond the school grounds.

Another Eustis Street neighbor made reference to a rodent problem that she suggested has surfaced since the school was expanded. She asked for some pest control program to be put in place to help the neighbors.

Moving from a completed school building project to a potential future project, Lyons provided an update on efforts to address the building deficiencies at Wakefield Memorial High School. He reminded everyone that a Statement of Interest has been submitted to the Massachusetts School Building Authority – the first step in seeking financial assistance from the state to either renovate the current high school or build a new one. Lyons said that he expects to hear by the end of this month whether Wakefield will be moved to the next stage of the process, which will include a feasibility study.

Lyons noted that the current condition of the high school building seriously jeopardizes the school’s accreditation. School Committee member Greg Liakos stressed the “exceptional faculty and staff” at WMHS, who perform at a high level despite the issues with the building.

Town Councilor Julie Smith-Galvin asked at what point the community should step up in support of the high school project. Lyons said that the time for that would be in the next stage of the process, if Wakefield is accepted into the MSBA program.

Town Councilor Tony Longo noted that local students are now going from a state-of-the-art Galvin Middle School to a high school that is circa 1975. School Committee Chairman Thomas Markham added that the process for a potential high school building project would be nearly identical to the one that was followed for the Galvin Middle School several years ago.

School Committee member Christopher Callanan said that while everyone was hoping for a positive response from the MSBA, it was important to acknowledge the need for a “Plan B” to address the most serious deficiencies if the state does not come through.

But Town Councilor Edward Dombroski said that self-funding by the town “would not be appetizing.” He stressed the importance of doing everything possible to secure state assistance. “I don’t want to see state money on the table for other towns to take,” he said.

Lyons also provided an update on the Greenwood School, another building that has been mentioned as needing serious attention. Lyons called it a “beautiful building that would be impossible to replicate today.” He noted that the bones of the building were in good shape for its age.

He said that the priority was to get a plan in place for the high school and then set sights on the Greenwood School. In the meantime, he said, it was important to maintain the school so that it will be ready when the time comes for a major overhaul.

Markham agreed and said that the Greenwood School would need to continue in its current state for the foreseeable future.

School Committee member Anne Marie Fortier wondered if the Greenwood could undergo a renovation similar to the recent Walton project.

The boards also discussed work that has been done on school/town recreation facilities as well as possible future projects, like upgrading Blatz Field for the high school girls’ softball team.

Asked if a town hockey rink was still on the horizon, Maio said that the town of Wakefield and the Northeast Metro Tech High School issued a joint request for proposals and got no bidders. He did not rule out trying again in the future.

Both Lyons and Maio spoke highly of the town’s and the School Department’s respective IT departments and their willingness to work collaboratively to assist each other.

The two boards also discussed transparency and the potential that exists now that the town has recently hired Jen McDonald to handle communications for the town. Maio said that McDonald will start by working on the town side of things but her duties will eventually include working with the School Department.

Following last night’s meeting, Walton fourth grade students provided tours of the renovated school.

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