Push For A New Wildwood School Begins: Special Town Meeting To Be Held In March; New Website With Project Info Launched

WILMINGTON, MA — The Town of Wilmington will be holding a Special Town Meeting in early March — likely Monday, March 7, 2022 or Tuesday, March 8, 2022 — to fund a feasibility study for the Wildwood School building project.

“The final step in the Eligibility Period for the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) funding program is for the Town to appropriate funds to conduct a feasibility study,” explained Town Manager Jeff Hull at the most recent Board of Selectmen’s Meeting. “If funds are approved at a Special Town Meeting, a firm will be hired to explore several options associated with addressing the replacement of the Wildwood Early Childhood Center.”

The expected price tag for the feasibility study is approximately $1 million and would be taken from the town’s free cash reserves.

Hull noted that the Eligibility Period closes on March 28, 2022, necessitating a Special Town Meeting. Wilmington’s Annual Town Meeting is slated for Saturday, April 29, 2022.

The meeting would likely take place in the Wilmington High School Auditorium, with the Shriners Auditorium as a back-up location if COVID-19 protocols require a larger space.

The town has already met deadlines for the first four deliverables during the MSBA eligibility process, including compliance certification (July 30), forming a School Building Committee (August 30), completing an Educational Profile Questionnaire (September 29), and providing an enrollment projection (September 29).

The Wildwood School Building Committee Meeting held its first meeting on October 18, 2021 via Zoom. The Committee, chaired by Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand, elected Assistant Superintendent Paul Ruggiero as its Vice Chair. The Committee also discussed the town’s upcoming responsibilities during the Eligibility Period as well as the development of a communication plan to keep parents and residents informed of the project. The plan will likely include the use of print & social media, community forums, an Open House at the Wildwood so residents can view the building up close, and newsletters to parents/guardians. The public will also receive regular updates on the project at Board of Selectmen and School Committee meetings.

The Committee has already created a website to provide current and accurate information about the project. It includes all documents submitted to the MSBA, building committee meeting minutes/agenda/recordings, and a link to the Town’s Facilities Master Plan. The website can be accessed at https://www.wpsk12.com/cms/One.aspx?portalId=26809273&pageId=48835006.

The website also features a 10-minute video tour of the building from Public Buildings Superintendent George Hooper, pointing out many of the building’s deficiencies:

During the Zoom meeting, Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand and Town Manager Jeff Hull stressed that the Special Town Meeting vote has nothing to do with a building design, location or potential grade reconfigurations. The warrant article’s sole purpose is to appropriate funds to hire a firm to conduct a feasibility study to help the committee make future decisions on these key issues. Both also stressed there will be plenty of opportunities for public input throughout the process.

“Between now and March, this is not about  figuring out the design of the building, where it’s going to go, and if the schools going to be consolidated or not. There’s going to be all kinds of time and opportunities for the public to become engaged in those questions,” said Superintendent Brand. “All of those really important things won’t happen well after the March vote, once a third party is secured through the funds that is a part of that vote. That company will do their work and that work will provide the substance of the possible directions that we’re going to go. This is the beginning of a long journey. This is not going to be all figured out by March…. There will be opportunities for the public’s feedback and ideas.”

“The focus at this time should be vote at the Special Town Meeting. Really the product of that vote will allow the town to do a deep dive of the various building options,” echoed Town Manager Jeff Hull. “This next step, if the funds are granted at Special Town Meeting, will allow the town to really hone in on the various configurations and options — and look at the pros and cons — and ultimately come to a conclusion for the best approach to take. That’s the intent of the funds that we’ll be looking for at the Special Town Meeting. We need to focus on that point and drive this message home — we’re NOT going to be voting on the design of the building or the location [in March].”

Built in 1955, the Wildwood Early Childhood Center is the oldest school in town and in relatively poor condition. Observations in the Facilities Master Plan include: (1) replacement of the roof is required in the near future; (2) interior finishes are generally in poor condition; (3) electrical panels & distribution are largely original to the building and need to be replaced; (4) interior & exterior lighting need to be upgraded to LED; (5) boilers and distribution piping are significantly old; (6) building has very inconsistent temperature control with rooms significantly overheating; (7) kitchen hood, air handling units and unit ventilations are all in poor condition; (8) plumbing systems are subject to freezing, beyond their useful life, and need to be replaced, with burst pipes as an ongoing issue; (9) the building is non-sprinklered; and (10) the school is over capacity by 30 students and should be, based on MSBA standards, at least 4,320 square feet larger.

Ultimately, by successfully completing the MSBA’s funding program, the town could see a 50%+ reimbursement in eligible construction costs for the project. This is the same grant program that reimbursed the town 55.19% of eligible costs towards the construction of the new Wilmington High School, resulting in a $37.9 million savings to Wilmington taxpayers.

The Wildwood School Building Committee will hold its next meeting, likely in person, during the week of November 15, 2021. Meetings are open to the public and will be covered by WCTV.

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