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$8M Science Lab Question Heads to TMs

By Ellen Oliver

At their September 11 meeting, the School Committee voted to approve a plan to renovate the high school’s science labs, sending the project to the district’s three towns for consideration at their respective Special Fall Town Meetings. The project is potentially eligible for 50% funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, reducing the cost to roughly $4M to be split amongst the three towns.

The Committee was under time pressure to coincide with the deadlines to put items on town warrants, as well as a tight approval timeline under MSBA regulations so the project could begin in June 2013 and be completed during the summer.

Stow Committee members Lynn Colletti and Jeff Odell in particular had questions about the schedule, the sole renovation option, and how the project would affect the classrooms that will lose space or be moved to accommodate the science labs. Colletti said, “We are doing a disservice to the towns if we don’t vet it here,” she said. “I’d like to see more creativity, more options.”

Chairman Nancy Federspiel said, considering the time constraints, “A yes is a maybe, a no is a no,” adding that the committee would have time to obtain additional information before the Town Meetings.
When asked if this project was a priority for the District, Superintendent Michael Wood acknowledged that while the science labs had been identified in 2008 as an area needing eventual attention, they had not bubbled to the top of the list. Assistant Superintendent George King remarked that with MSBA funding, this project “might be the solution to a problem that really is there. The answer came before the questions.”

After more than an hour of discussion, including whether to postpone the vote by two weeks, the Committee voted 6-2 to send the project to Town Meetings. Vice Chair Maureen Busch said, “As much as I hate spending now – the timing is horrible- I don’t want to kill it before we let the towns have a chance to decide.”

In other school committee news, Wood reported that the school openings were smooth, other than two to three bus route questions. He also received good feedback on the new high school track and field, aside from complaints that the stands were very crowded since the visitor stands were removed. Wood said that as new areas open up as construction is finalized, people will be able to mill around the other side of the field and sit on the new retaining wall to watch events.

Wood also put a call out for parents to join two committees. The school calendar committee is about a six week commitment with the final calendar to be approved before Christmas. He also encouraged middle school parents to be part of the comprehensive assessment committee studying the district’s middle schools.

Colletti confirmed the dates of an Open House at the new Center School on September 22 from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm.

At the end of the public meeting,  the Committee entered Executive Session to discuss litigation on a personnel matter.