WILMINGTON, MA — Whether the Roman House stays, is moved, or gets demolished, one thing is now known for sure — the Wilmington School Committee does not want the school district’s administration working in it for much longer.
At its meeting on Wednesday, July 29, the School Committee reached a consensus that the Roman House is no longer a suitable location for the school administration office, citing several inadequacies with the 118-year building in the areas of work space, accessibility, infrastructure and safety.
One glaring example of the Roman House’s limitations is the fact that the offices of two of the five school district administrators — the Special Education Director and the Technology Coordinator — can’t even fit in the building, which currently houses only the Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, and Director of Administration & Finance, along with their small support team.
Superintendent Mary DeLai was quick to point out that the School Committee was not weighing in on the future of the structure itself, but rather whether or not it was a suitable location for a school administration office.
A decision on what would happen to the actual building, once vacated, is “not a decision for the School Committee, but for the entire community,” stressed DeLai, noting a Town Meeting vote would be necessary.
“Everywhere I go this summer, I’ve been questioned about the Roman House,” said School Committee Chairwoman Peggy Kane. “Not one person I spoke with this summer felt it should stay. They all said it’s got to go.”
Committee members seemed to agree that they’ve heard very little support for keeping the 19th century building in front of the 21st century high school.
At May’s Town Meeting, voters OK’ed Town Hall’s request to hire a firm to create a Facility Masters Plan for Wilmington, which will examine the needs and possible future uses of all municipal buildings. The plan would also recommend if any town-owned buildings needed to be decommissioned.
Kane wants to support that process and stressed the importance of the school side being “in sync” with the town side, but recognized the School Committee is “in a bit of a conundrum” if the two sides’s thinking and timelines don’t match up.
“I don’t think [the administration and their team] could work in the Roman House for five more years,” said Kane, who intends on putting the topic on a School Committee Meeting agenda again for future discussion, possibly as early as September.
“We shouldn’t stop taking about this issue,” said Kane, encouraging members to continue to gather information and listen to residents.
School Committee member Julie Broussard requested that Superintendent DeLai create a “Plan B” in case the Roman House needed to be suddenly vacated due to damage from a “force of nature” or a long-term maintenance issue brought about by its old age.
DeLai agreed it was a good idea and noted her team had already begun researching temporarily locations, including using modular units, leasing business space, and setting up in the Town Hall Auditorium.
The School Committee also reached consensus that renovating the Roman House would be costly and impractical as the entire building would need to be brought up to code, which would necessitate the addition of an elevator and sprinkler systems.
Long-term solutions to where the the school administration could potentially relocate, however, were not heavily discussed at the meeting. The construction of a more suitable School Administration Building on the current Roman House site, or the construction of a joint Town Hall/School Administration Building somewhere else in town, were both brought up as hypothetical solutions. The intent of the agenda item was merely to begin a discussion among members.
The Roman House, built in 1897, is located within the Wilmington Centre Village Historic District. The building’s history was chronicled by Larz Neilson in this 2011 Wilmington Town Crier article. The Town’s Master Plan refers to the Roman House as one of the town’s “key historical structures.” Wilmington’s “Open Space and Recreation Plan,” published just last month, describes the Roman House as “a beautifully maintained Queen Anne-style house…[and] one of several along Church Street built during the Victorian Era.”
(NOTE: School Committee members M.J. Byrnes and Kathleen Carroll were absent from this meeting. The School Committee does not typically meet in July, but the Chair will call a meeting if pressing matters arise. The Committee needed to vote on a contract with the Administrative Assistants Union and receive an update on staffing in regards to School Resource Officers.)
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