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Unanimity: Council OKs school

'Its our pride on the line, so let's do it right'

Architect Charles Hay of Tappe Associates talks about certain details of the middle/high school project, which the Town Council approved unanimously Monday night. File photo/Gus Steeves. (click for larger version)
February 10, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — Sixty-three consecutive "yes" votes rang out across the Town Hall Monday evening as the Town Council unanimously approved the seven roll-call items necessary to give Southbridge a new middle/high school.

"You know why everybody's kind of shocked?" asked School Building Committee Chairman Scott Lazo during the subsequent recess. "Because for years everybody said we couldn't do it. But Southbridge can do it. It's our pride on the line, so let's do it right."

Lazo said his panel will start immediately on the process of hiring the "construction manager at risk," a new project oversight job the state encourages towns to have for big projects and the council had just approved. Although it will be around nine months before the detailed plans are complete, he noted he expects the first stages of site work to begin sometime this summer.

The preparation for that work will include exploring an alternate route for the utilities that could reduce the cost. Lazo said he'd like to see the lines run down a "paper street" in the woods (Evergreen Lane) that heads to Charlton Street School, rather than the longer route around Torrey and Guelphwood roads. Among other things, the forest route wouldn't need to be repaved afterward and would be subject to less stringent blasting conditions because it's not populated, he said.

"It's taken a tremendous team approach to get us to this point," said School Committee Chairman John Jovan, Jr. Earlier, before the vote, he'd observed that the road to this day has taken seven years. In the middle was a state building moratorium that proved to be " a blessing in disguise" because it gave Southbridge time to really study its needs and fix "a lot of the issues that faced us" within the schools.

"It's hard to believe we're at this step of voting to fund this project," Jovan said. "…[This project] is not a solution to everything, but is a key ingredient of our students' and the community's success."

The project is to build a middle/high school on town-owned land off Torrey Road. Preliminary plans call for it to be three floors in a rough V-shape, with the high school on one arm, the middle school on the other and shared space in the middle. It will be possible to lock off the academic areas from the front sections, where gym, theater and cafeteria can be used as community spaces after hours.

The total cost will be $76,517,078, of which the state has already set aside $53,757,038 to pay for the lion's share. That funding doesn't cover $5.5 million in work such as the utility lines and road upgrades, sports fields and certain other things. The grand total also includes a new track/football field as an alternate, but that is not likely to be built unless some other funds become available, because Town Manager Christopher Clark's funding plan doesn't include it.

See Wednesday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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