In the coming weeks, parents, school officials and the City will be called on for input and a final decision for the preferred alternative in the rebuilding plan for the Clark Avenue Middle School – a project that has been long in the making and is finally coming to bear.
School administrator Gerry McCue told the Record that the schools will have to file a milestone report on Oct. 3 with the state School Building Authority (SBA) that will show the three alternatives discussed for the rebuild and give a preferred option. The three alternatives, he said, have been analyzed for the last six months, but the preferred alternative submitted in that plan will only come after a series of meetings and presentations to parents over the next several weeks.
“Everything is in draft form right now and no decisions have been made,” he said. “On Oct. 3, though, we will have to submit two documents to the state and they will review those documents and hopefully concur with our findings and give us their blessing to move forward. Right now, though, we are looking for input from the community about what they would prefer to see.”
Already, one meeting of the Clark Avenue School Building Committee has taken place – this past Tuesday night, Sept. 10.
There will be two more meetings, he said, on Sept. 24 and Oct. 1.
On Sept. 25, however, there will be a major open meeting at the school for parents to meet with the architects – who will give a rundown of the three alternative plans and the pros and cons of each of those options.
The alternatives, McCue said, will never be perfect given the cramped quarters in Chelsea.
“I don’t know that any plan will satisfy everyone or everyone’s interests as in a perfect world,” he said. “What we will try to do is address everyone’s priorities and incorporate them as best as possible in order to build the best facility to support the education program at the school.”
The two options that have been analyzed and discussed already are an option to renovate the existing Clark Avenue School or to find a new location and build a brand new facility.
“Over the last six months we’ve been working with the City to identify sites available to build a new school and we’ve been doing a lot of work looking at existing conditions in the Clark Ave School to figure out what it would take to renovate that school and make it into a 21st Century school that can support education there,” he said.
However, a new third option has been thrown into the mix, and that would combine both of the above plans. The new third option, he said, is to renovate a portion of the existing school and demolish and rebuild another portion of the school.
“There may be a third option we can look at that calls for some renovation and some new portion built – all on the existing site,” he said. “The challenge is that there’s not a lot os sites available for a school and the current site is ideally situated in the middle of the city. We’re looking at whether if they build a new school, whether they could build it on the same site. There is a part of the Clark Ave that is unused and if we knock that part down, could we build a new building on that site? That’s a similar approach to how we built the Williams School. The classrooms came first and then the older portion of the school got knocked down later to build the gym and community room that came afterward.”
In all options, there will be major challenges, he said, with figuring out how to purchase land for a new school (it’s not reimbursable from the state), where to put students during construction (there’s no extra room in any of the schools due to an enrollment boom) and just how to save the historic architecture of the existing school (which used to be Chelsea High School).
“The problem with these older schools is they are beautiful and have unique details, but they can be functionally obsolete for 21st Century education,” he said. “They can’t handle the electrical needs of a newer school that requires computers and technology in every classroom throughout the building.”
Last year, the state announced that the City’s Clark Avenue School project had been accepted into its pipeline for either renovation or replacement.