Let's just start over with AHS rebuild, citizen group says

Current AHS; inset, Carl Wagner
The columned entrance to Arlington High School as it looks today; inset, Carl Wagner.

The effort to have the lengthy process to rebuild Arlington High School start over continues, even as the state has approved substantial funds for the project and a June ballot question looms.

Resident Carl Wagner, who has been raising questions about the massive project since last July and who started a citizen group to support that effort, calls for a "better project in several years time."

If approved, the current project forecasts a new high school opening by 2024.

Wagner, a 1987 graduate who is speaking a member of Save Our Historic Arlington High School (SOHAHS), lists a series of concerns. Addressing them, he says, would result in a "better renovation focus," a new architect and a building committee that "could deliver a better open space, building, traffic and overall environmental solution at a lower total cost ...."

Save money, increase teachers' pay

With the savings, he wrote in response to questions in mid-April, "let's increase Arlington teachers' pay to reward their efforts -- they have already produced the 9th best high school students -- in the existing school environs."

As to losing $86 million in state funding for the $290.8 million project, Wagner, a former Town Meeting member, is blunt: "It is true that [the] MSBA funds would have to be requested again -- and this is what we should do."

As to the fact that the project was spurred by a state accreditor placing AHS on a warning status in 2013, he remains hopeful, though starting over might try the agency's patience.

He called the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), the accrediting agency, "a private educational organization," which is "certainly ... important for us to consider, but is something the building committee uses freely as a scare tactic with Arlington’s voters and parents."

Accreditation review in 2023

Asked about the next review, Matthew Janger, the high school principal, wrote April 23 that would be in 2023. "According to NEASC, they would make a decision at that time. If we do not have a plan underway to remedy the space, condition, and facilities issues, we would likely move from warning to at least probationary status."

Wagner and his supporters note that "the school for many years has continued to produce excellent students," despite the accreditation warning. "With the school department's attention to maintenance matters and the beginning of a project that would significantly improve facilities such as science rooms, it is unlikely that the ninth best school in the state would at the same time be closed or unrecognized -- not if Arlington school officials put honest effort into running it and a project to improve it that doesn’t break the bank in Arlington or destroy our history and open spaces."

Asked to spell out his defense of opposing the project through the June vote, Wagner, a vice president, head of marketing technology at Loomis Sayles & Co., provided the following statement:

"Flawed Process - Failure to 'do no harm' to open space, historic architecture, taxpayers

"What initially bothered the hundreds of people that signed the SOHAHS petition was that the current project is too expensive and destroys too much of Arlington's open space, historic architectural exteriors and creates a lot of mess, such as the moving of the front of the building to the 'back' and the rerouting of drop-off traffic to Mill and Grove streets.

"BC [the building committee] has a perfectly adequate back-up plan -- renovation at a lower cost -- Building will only be LEED-silver

"The project building committee gave Arlington no opportunity to debate or change their 'Option 3a,'" and they have not compromised on that plan. Although the question is the right one: what to do to improve AHS, the answer they provide is still not the correct one. They threaten various things in order to frighten Arlington to unquestioningly pay out over $800 a year, on top of existing taxes -- for a solution that could easily have been better and cheaper.

bluebar 165X8Project cost: $290.8 million

State funding: $86 million

Amount town pays: $204.8 million

bluebar 165X8

"The building committee has repeatedly threatened Arlington that the school will stop being a school unless we let them take our open space, mess up our traffic and destroy our buildings. In a recent meeting, the building committee reviewed a renovation plan that would provide for excellent education if the town and Town Meeting chooses to say no to this tear-down plan in favor of a more appropriate solution. That plan didn't have numbers shown, but would likely be much much cheaper than the $290M they are currently quoting -- twice what Arlington told them we could pay.

"In the same meeting, the architect admitted the building will not be very green and the architect is not very oriented to understanding or obtaining earlier much touted 'net zero' and 'green' levels. The building will be two levels from the bottom: LEED-silver. A renovation of the current buildings would provide a better complete impact on the environment, when the embodied energy of the existing structures is considered.

"In truth, the building committee has, as late as June, said they favored options that preserved the traffic, facades and lawn for their educational plans -- and they estimated the cost of that would be the same as their Option 3a tear-down/land loss/traffic mess plan. They mysteriously changed their plan in late June 2018, so that only the huge tear-down project would meet their new goals.

"MSBA funding requested later plus historic preservation grants -- get it right vs. this wrong project

"For this much money, Arlington should insist on getting it right. The building committee process locked out the town's taxpayers from the beginning, and completely failed to make any compromise when citizens like SOHAHS attempted to make responsible improvements to save open space, money, traffic mess, soccer and basketball practice areas and the historic building facades.

"It is true that $83 million in MSBA funds would have to be requested again -- and this is what we should do. We have an important Prop. 2 1/2 override to fund existing town services - and we should do that first. Later, with a better building committee, one that would include at least SOME AHS graduates, the project could request appropriate MSBA funds for a renovation and request up to 33 percent of the cost of the building to additionally come from historic preservation credits. Even if the MSBA funding were different from what they offer today, the combination of saving our priceless open space, our great historic buildings, our sports fields, not worsening traffic.

"A better project in several years time, with better renovation focus, architect and building committee could deliver a better open space, building, traffic and overall environmental solution at a lower total cost to Arlington's students, taxpayers and residents. And with the savings, let's increase Arlington teachers' pay to reward their efforts -- they have already produced the ninth best high school students -- in the existing school environs.

Ballot-question committee?

As of Wednesday, May 8, the clerk's office reported that SOHAHS had not filed to be a ballot-question committee, which allows a group to raise money on behalf of a viewpoint toward a public vote on an issue. Build Arlington's Future, which favors a yes vote June 11, filed to become such a committee on Jan. 25. The address is 48 Chatham St., the home of Annie LaCourt, who is the group's treasurer. Dan Dunn and Len Kardon are cochairs.

Asked whether the group questioning the project would file to become a ballot-question committee, Wagner provided a statement from Patricia Worden:

"SOHAHS is a source of information for the public and not a formal ballot committee. It provides facts and suggestions for an improved project, not marketing initiatives and propaganda promoted in the media as news items, whereas they are actually free advertising.

"Nowhere in the public relations [that the] AHS BC Building Committee] releases to the press will you find any mention of the undesirable aspects of the project, such as the town management/BC’s attempt to take by eminent domain a little historic house on Grove Street without ever contacting the family who own it and live there, or the Arlington Historical Commission who have jurisdiction since the house is on the Arlington Register of Historically Significant Structures; or how the significant and unhealthy heat-island effect of the BC project design will affect student athletes etc."

In an opinion column in November titled, "Let's keep working toward an AHS design compromise," YourArlington reported how two historical-preservation groups addressed the high school rebuild.

Save Our Historic Arlington High School (SOHAHS
Opinion: Aug. 7, 2018: Keep AHS facade, green, resident tells state
June 7, 2018: Official summary of June 4 meeting
April 13, 2018: Town manager clarifies costs for new AHS: It's still early
March 7, 2018: THIRD FORUM: 100 tour AHS, look into future; hear flexibility touted
Jan. 12, 2018: 125 attend as public process to launch AHS update underway

This news summary was published Thursday, May 16, 2019.

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