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Wellesley officials OK construction of new high school

Renovation of existing structure would cost more

Joelson Silva (left) and Steven Wilson finished up a food delivery run to Beacon Hill yesterday, with Wilson giving his co-worker a ride on the cart across Tremont Street in Boston. Joelson Silva (left) and Steven Wilson finished up a food delivery run to Beacon Hill yesterday, with Wilson giving his co-worker a ride on the cart across Tremont Street in Boston. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Lisa Keen
Globe Correspondent / May 16, 2008

WELLESLEY — Town officials voted unanimously last night to support a plan for a new high school building.

The combined Permanent and School building committees voted 15 to 0 to approve a design for construction of a new high school. One of the biggest concerns in looking at improvements to the current high school was how construction would negatively impact the environment for students.

The recommendation must now go through review by the state School Building Authority, which controls how much money the state contributes to the effort.

The committees had two design options before them. The all-new construction, dubbed ‘‘The Hub,’’ will cost an estimated $159 million and take under four years to complete.

The second option, called ‘‘The Forum,’’ was a renovation of the original 1938 section of the current building with new additions. Its cost was estimated at $175 million, with more than five years in construction. This option was favored by historic preservationists and residents who wanted to retain the distinctive landmark, and by neighbors who preferred its location farther from their properties.

Katherine Babson, a selectwoman and chairwoman of the School Building Committee, said that while she has a strong personal preference and sentimental attachment to the existing building, the smaller price tag and shorter length of time to completion compelled her to support the Hub option.

‘‘I grew up and spent my entire life right around the corner from the high school,’’ said Babson.

Before last night’s vote, town officials said they hoped Wellesley had considered its options well enough to avoid some of the difficulties neighboring Newton has encountered during the past two years with its high school project.

At a regular School Committee meeting on Tuesday night, committee member Marlene Allen said she wants the town to ‘‘make sure that we so sufficiently study this thing that we’re ready to go without these huge cost overruns, and that we do the best job for the town.’’

Neighboring Newton’s efforts to build a new Newton North High School have run into numerous difficulties and cost overruns, including the discovery of asbestos on the construction site. Newton officials approved a $141 million project in January 2007, only to find themselves approving an additional $56 million in April of this year.

The Wellesley School Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to back the option for the all-new construction with the lower price tag.

Superintendent Bella Wong also presented suggestions for reducing the net square footage of the new high school, which she said were needed to prevent obstacles undermining the program. She suggested reducing the amount of space set aside for a cable studio and a wrestling room, and eliminating a computer lab, outdoor toilets, an art gallery, and numerous storage spaces. The proposals cut 8,830 square feet, or about 4 percent, of the 225,610 square feet of the school design.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority guidelines call for grants of no less than 40 percent of eligible expenses for any approved project.

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