The Arlington High School Building Committee voted against reconsidering tearing down historic parts of the building at its September 18 meeting. The unanimous vote follows push-back from some residents who have come together against the committee’s June decision to build an all-new high school. A group of residents behind the website, Save Our Historic Arlington High School, had been urging the committee to reconsider tearing down historic parts fo the school, but now say they simply want to keep the front column facade as well the front lawn.  Reached by phone Carl Wagner, who helped spearhead the group says they will no longer ask for the actual buildings to be preserved as that would likely result in pushing back the entire project and could jeopardize state funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority. “There is no value in picketing for a renovation project,” said Wagner. Instead, he said they will focus on trying to save the front lawn and front column facade as they believe those changes if made soon, would be allowed by the MSBA.

Design process

The Massachusetts School Building Authority voted Arlington into the schematic design phase after Arlington presented the preferred design option in late August. It was one of four design choices that were presented to the public and considered by the committee in the spring. Two of the proposals would have kept the original 1914 building, known as Fusco house, and the 1938 Collumb house building, which serves as the main entrance to the school with its iconic clock tower and columns. Two other choices called for all new construction with the committee ultimately selecting option 3A, a brand new building with a central area that includes a library, cafeteria, and commons. Four wings then flank the central building, two of them would be partially located on the front lawn facing Massachusetts Avenue.

Committee’s choice

In an opening statement made during the building committee’s meeting September 18, which was provided to Arlington Public News and listed on the Arlington High School Building Committee’s website, committee chair Jeff Thielman said he was encouraged by varying viewpoints brought up to the committee. Thielman noted that people visiting the committee’s Town Day booth, an annual street fair with multiple organizations lining Massachusetts Avenue on Saturday, September 15th,  voiced varying opinions but said that they are the very same items the building committee has considered since it started looking at re-building the high school nearly two years ago. “I found the conversations we had on Saturday reassuring … there was no issue raised that we had not delved into rather deeply here in this room,” said Thielman in the address to the high school building committee. In his released statement Thielman also addressed those who want to keep the historic parts of the campus directly. “I want to be very clear with those who passed out fliers at Town Day in opposition to the project. Renovating Fusco and Collomb House cannot happen unless a majority of the Committee votes to reverse our June decision. We would be the first district in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to request permission to change a preferred schematic design vote,” said Theilman. Thielman’s released statement went on to say that changing the design would cause the project to at the very least drop back a phase in the MSBA’s schedule and at most could cost the project to fall out of the current process and funding altogether. The states expected reimbursement rate from the school has been cited by building committee officials to be about 40 percent of the estimated $300 million high school cost. Which the committee expects to put before voters to decide on a tax override to fund the school in the spring of next year.

Next steps

Wagner, a 1987 graduate of Arlington High School says his group is not against a new high school and that his daughter recently graduated from there. “The best thing we can do is support our schools and allow the town to pull together in unity,” said Wagner. Wagner said he and members of his group plan to speak about their goals at the next community forum taking place in Town Hall on Monday, September 24 at 7 p.m. In his ending remarks to the committee’s most recent meeting, Thielman said, “We want to work with everyone in Arlington who has an interest in this project. But, please understand that the constraints and tradeoffs involved in this huge project mean that everyone will have something in the final design that they wish could be different.
There is a give and take to this process, and we welcome everyone in the community to get involved, get the facts, tell us your thoughts, and join us in building something truly great for the thousands of students who will attend Arlington High School in the decades to come.”
Past forums, tours and news stories regarding Arlington High School can be found here.      

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September 21, 2018