The fate of a new Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational Technical High School building could hang in the balance with a district-wide vote next month. Voters in the 12 district communities, including Chelsea, will be able to weigh in on the funding of the proposed $317 million project on Tuesday, Jan. 25.
The polls will be open in Chelsea from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and the only polling location will be the City Council Chambers at City Hall. The fate of the project will be determined by the overall vote totals throughout the 12 communities. The election was triggered in part by the City Council’s vote in October not to authorize the payment of the city’s share of the $317 million project. Town meeting voters in Saugus also voted against authorization of that town’s assessment for the project in October.
The council’s vote came at the recommendation of City Manager Thomas Ambrosino. Ambrosino said the funding formula would have a huge impact on the city’s budget. The formula is based on the number of students each community sends to the school, and Chelsea is behind only Revere as the community sending the most students to the vocational school. The city manager has said Chelsea’s share of the debt service for the project will require annual payments of approximately $1.9 million, costing the average two-family homeowner in Chelsea more than $215 annually in taxes. “If the (district) vote passes, we’ll have to come up with this money somehow, and as difficult a financial predicament that will put us in, we will have no choice but to do that,” he said.
“If the vote fails, I think the district will have to get together because it would mean the majority of the residents of the whole district did not want this school to move forward and they would have to come up with a different approach. Maybe it is a less expensive new building, maybe it is something else.” Council President Roy Avellaneda said Chelsea has to bear financial burdens that other communities in the district do not have to face, from a greater level of affordable housing to a lower level of state aid than the other communities receive. “No other community bears the brunt that Chelsea does, and they do not have the same level of affordable housing that Chelsea does in the community,” said Avellaneda.
He said that close to 20 percent of the housing in Chelsea is income restricted. Given the timing of the election, and the fact that the vocational school may not be on a lot of people’s radar, Avellaneda said he doesn’t have high expectations for the turnout. “We really expect a horrendous turnout,” said Avellaneda. “Unless someone has a kid in high school and they are going into the trades, it’s not an issue that I think people are focusing on.” Northeast Metropolitan Vocational Technical District Superintendent Dave DiBarri said Northeast Metro Tech’s goal is to help every student reach their full potential, and to find employment in high-paying, high-demand jobs upon graduation. “Northeast’s building is more than 50 years old and has already served beyond its intended lifespan,” said DiBarri.
“As a result, Northeast students do not have access to the best career technical education possible.” He said a team including Northeast officials, School Committee members from all 12 communities Northeast serves, and construction experts has spent more than four years developing a plan for a new school building. “We listened to concerns from our sending communities, and worked diligently to develop a cost-effective building plan,” DiBarri said.
“Voters will be asked whether they support the school plan at a special referendum on Jan. 25. The Massachusetts School Building Authority will fund about $140 million of the project’s cost, which carries with it a deadline to be accepted or declined. “Without support across our sending communities, Northeast would have to start over and wait years for another opportunity for state funding, or assume responsibility for the costs of the entirety of the project.” The last day to register to vote for the special election in Chelsea is Wednesday, Jan. 5.