Chelsea’s proposed share of the cost of a new Northeast Metropolitan Vocational Technical High School building would put an unfair financial burden on the city, according to city officials and community leaders who rallied in front of City Hall last Thursday.
Voters in the 12 vocational district communities, including Chelsea, will be able to weigh in on the funding of the proposed $317 million project in Wakefield on Tuesday, Jan. 25. Polls will be open in Chelsea in the City Council Chambers at City Hall from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
At last Thursday’s rally, a number of city officials urged voters to vote no.
“We are grateful for the opportunity that this brings to our students in offering vocational education, however the construction of this new school comes at a hefty price for our community,” said District 5 City Councillor Judith Garcia. “It will cost the city ($58) million. We are talking about annually a cost of $1.9 million, which is a very high price for us; it’s a price that our community cannot afford to pay.”
School Committee President Kelly Garcia urged residents in surrounding communities, which include Revere, Saugus, Winthrop, Wakefield, Reading, and Woburn, as well as voters in Chelsea to vote no.
“Our schools, our community can simply not afford this construction and we hope we can count on your vote on voting no on Jan. 25,” said Kelly Garcia.
The inequity of the formula determining Chelsea’s share of the project cost was a theme touched upon by many of the day’s speakers. Judith Garcia said if Chelsea has to pay nearly $2 million per year over the next 30 years, it will basically eliminate the ability for Chelsea to pay for any new school or city projects over that time.
“Our objections have nothing to do with the merits of the school, it is simply the cost and the antiquated formula,” said District 2 City Councillor Melinda Vega Maldonado. “The cost is simply unaffordable, inequitable, and insensitive, especially after the hardships of the pandemic.”
City Council President Roy Avellaneda said he understands the need for a new vocational high school.
“What we object to is the cost of the project, because it seems a little bit exorbitant based on our own cost when we built our own middle school and other projects in the city so we don’t think the cost has been scrutinized enough,” said Avellaneda. “Second, it’s about the portion that Chelsea must contribute that we feel is unfair and heavier for our community than the other participating 12 communities. It’s another example of Chelsea once again not receiving equitable treatment as compared to everyone.”
The funding formula for the construction costs is based solely on the number of students each community sends to the vocational school. Only Revere sends more students in the district.
City Manager Thomas Ambrosino said he believes the current vocational high school is antiquated and that a replacement needs to be replaced.
“It’s the cost of this specific replacement and its oppressive financial burden on the city of Chelsea that drives our strong opposition,” said Ambrosino. “To demand that the city of Chelsea pay $2 million a year, for each of the next 30 years without any consideration at all for our unique demographics and our ability to pay where wealthier communities, far wealthier communities than Chelsea will be paying far less for the same exact facility for their students and their residents. That to me is unfair, it’s unjust, it’s unconscionable.”
Superintendent of Schools Almi Abeyta said it is rare for her as a superintendent to oppose the building of a new school, and said there is no doubt that the vocational district needs a new building, but like the others who spoke, Abeyta said she objected to the costs it will impose on the residents of Chelsea.”
“The cost is a huge burden to our community that is 70 percent economically disadvantaged and the hardest hit in this pandemic,” said Abeyta.
Northeast Metropolitan Vocational Technical District Superintendent Dave DiBarri has stated that 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.