Clark Avenue School Building Project Ramping Up Efforts

The Clark Avenue School, former Chelsea High School, needs some attention and district leaders have just begun working with the State to push the project forward after a few years of stagnation.

City and School officials are about to enter a strange new place – the state’s new School Building Authority (MSBA).

After building several new schools some years ago under the old state program, Chelsea has not embarked on a school building project for more than a decade. However, officials are just now ramping up efforts to address the Clark Avenue Middle School.

Right now, the schools have gone out to bid for a project manager, which is the first step in the MSBA’s Feasibility Study Phase, and also the first step towards building a new school. Once that project manager is selected, the City will then go out to bid for an architect.

Once that is done, things get going into high gear.

“The architect will develop the feasibility study and what are the needs of the district and, in particularly, the Clark Avenue School,” said Gerry McCue of the School Department. “The architect will look at any improvements that will need to be done. Most importantly, they will be looking as to whether it’s best to renovate the building or if building a new facility would be preferable and more efficient. If we build new, then you would have to look at where would we put a new school.”

That study is expected to be done next summer.

At that point, the results of the study would be shared with the community and would go to the MSBA Board of Directors for approval. As it is now, McCue expects a public meeting in January to discuss the project in greater detail.

Full design and bidding of any potential project is expected in the summer of 2014, and the project has preliminary qualification to get nearly 80 percent cost reimbursement from the state – meaning taxpayers would be on the hook for just 20 percent of building costs.

There is no question that something has to be done with the Clark.

The building was originally the Chelsea High School, and when the new high school was constructed, it was closed down. Later it was re-opened as swing space for the Early Learning Center. Then, when enrollment increased in the mid-1990s, it became necessary to open it as a third middle school. Some $4 million in renovations were done to the school at that time, in 1998.

McCue said that the current enrollments support continuing on with that third middle school at the Clark, and so it becomes necessary to jump into a building project.

Already, the MSBA has indicated that Chelsea needs to build or renovate a school to hold 670 students. Currently, there are only 580 students at the Clark, but McCue said they expect some enrollment growth.

“We do expect some growth because we see some larger classes in kindergarten now that will cause the middle grades to increase over the next several years,” he said. “We think 670 is pretty close to what we need so we have agreed with that number.”

The great debate will most likely be whether to renovate the old school, or to build a new school – and if building a new school is an option, the City must figure out where.

“We think the existing building can hold that many students,” said McCue. “The last high school enrollment at that school was about 1,000 students and they weren’t even using the whole building. We know we can accommodate the kids, but the tough thing is you’re locked into the widths of the hallways and the classrooms are fixed. The good thing about the Clark School is it’s so conveniently located. It’s in the middle of the city and has good access to the neighborhoods. Plus, there’s been a school in that neighborhood for many years.”

City Manager Jay Ash has recently appointed a School Building Committee for the project, putting on local business leaders, parents, school officials, City officials and even a current Chelsea High student who once attended the Clark.

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