O’Flaherty: State is Ready to Talk About Clark Ave. School

A feasibility study on a new or renovated Clark Avenue school has been given the green light according to State Rep. Gene O’Flaherty, and now City leaders are left to ponder whether they should start from scratch on the same site, build elsewhere or substantially renovate the old building.

MSBA Executive Director John McCarthy has informed the legislators and City Manager Jay Ash that the approval for a study does not mean approval of a final project, but that it is an important beginning to the process.

Ash said that is expected at this early stage.

“We’re not sure whether we want to renovate the existing Clark Avenue School, tear it down and rebuild or build a school somewhere else,” said Ash. “We still need to assess what our educational requirements may be and consider the planning aspects of where to best locate a middle school, if we need one. We’ll be looking further at enrollment projections and fully vetting any and all options.

“Having said all of that, we’re grateful for the support of our legislative delegation, Treasurer (Steve) Grossman and all the people we are working with at MSBA,” Ash indicated.

Regarding the issue of renovating or tearing down, Ash said nothing is being ruled out at this point.

“There is a question about cost, but there is also a question about what’s right for our community and another one, maybe the most important one, about what’s right for educating our kids,” he said. “We’ve put aside some money to help deal with the cost question, but we still don’t have a full handle on the entirety of the costs. In the coming months we’ll also look at the community and educational angles and then come up with a couple of options that we’ll discuss with MSBA and the community at large,” said Ash.

Ash could not put a timetable on the process and when a renovated or new school project might begin. He did say, though, that the efforts would not impact the upcoming school year.

“We’ll continue to maintain the Clark Avenue School and offer our kids a great education,” said Ash. “While doing that, we’ll look to the future and consider how we can do even better, maintaining an eye on three important bottom lines:  finances, community planning and educational outcomes.”

The last major project undertaken by the City was in 2000, with the addition to Chelsea High School. Prior to that, all of the City’s schools were built new or renovated in 1996 and 1997, with the exception of the old Chelsea High School, which was mothballed with the 1996 opening of the new CHS. However, increasing enrollments resulted in the old CHS being reopened as the Clark Avenue School for grades 5-8.

Ash said that major repairs have already been made to that building, like the roof and the heating system, but much more needs to be done if the school is going to remain open for the foreseeable future and meet Chelsea’s educational standards.

“Educationally, the Clark Avenue School is first-rate,” he said. “However, the space does limit the programming and the overall condition of the building is not up to our standards for our kids, so we are anxious to do something.  But what to do is what we need to figure out.”

The process requires communities to figure that out in collaboration with MSBA. In fact, communities that get too far ahead of the process are not eligible for reimbursement for the work.

“It’s a strict process, but a very good one because MSBA makes sure everything an applicant does is done to a standard that can then qualify for reimbursement and get the application to the next step,” said O’Flaherty.

O’Flaherty and his fellow Chelsea legislative delegation members said that while nothing is yet concrete on the project, this designation is a tremendous first step.

“This is obviously great news,” said O’Flaherty, who has been advocating for Chelsea’s inclusion in the State program that helps fund new school projects.  “Local officials have expressed an interest in doing a project involving the Clark Avenue School.  My job, and that of my colleagues, is to then take that desire and run with it.  Run with it we have, and the news of this feasibility study approval now paves the way for the project to move forward.”

Both Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein and Sen. Sal DiDomenico agreed with O’Flaherty’s support for the Clark Avenue School study and what the State approval means.

“MSBA approval of a feasibility study is the most important next step towards getting a new school project funded. It’s good that we’ve achieved that status,” said Reinstein.

“New school projects are full of necessary process to ensure that multi-million dollar expenditures are well thought-out and done right. Of course, Chelsea knows how to build projects right, having already done more than $125 million in new schools over the last 15 years. So, we’ve got experienced partners who have agreed to work together on what could be the next project. That’s good for our school kids and for our taxpayers,” added DiDomenico.

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