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Asked a question 11 months ago

The city that I live in has 3 high schools that are each approximately 100 years old. They are neighborhood units that have become cultural institutions. The school district has failed to perform routine maintenance on these facilities; and the district has now hired a architecture firm that specializes in mega high school facilities to prepare a future facilities plan. They are wanting to close all three high schools and build a new facility in a suburban area that would accommodate all the schools. The logic is that since its a new facility, enrollment and performance will increase. This will only leave vacant inner city school buildings, and continue sprawl. Has anyone else combated this with their school district or have ways to approach the situation?

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We had a somewhat similar issue in our city.  We have 2 high schools, one older, centrally located with a small campus, and one on what had been the fringe of the city, with a very large campus.  In 2015, the school board bought an 80-acre parcel of land on the other side of the city, and brought forward a referendum to replace Central High School with a new school and renovate the other.  

It was a hugely contentious issue, and I ended up running for and winning a seat on the board to try to oppose the new school.  We are now in the process of renovating both schools in place.  I'm very pleased with our end result, but it was a rough road to get there!  And some folks are very unhappy with the way it turned out.  There were lots of pros and cons, competing values, and compromises.  

Nathan ChungStrong Towns Member
Graduate Student of Regional and Urban Planning

In 2018, a small town (pop 16,000) I used to live in called Easthampton in Western Mass got into a pretty contentious debate to tear down existing elementary and middle schools and replace them with a +$100 mil consolidated school near the edge of downtown going into the suburbs. Here is an article: https://www.masslive.com/news/2018/05/easthampton_school_vote_failss.html50 Despite the word "fails" in the URL, the majority voted in favor of the new building.

The proposed site already has a poorly maintained middle school. The plan is to tear down the schools and build on top of the middle school. From looking at the debate on the town's Facebook group, where one of my personal acquaintances was vocal about her support, most supporters framed the issue in a black-and-white paradigm of "If you don't vote Yes, you are voting in favor of sacrificing our children's future." 

Some people raised what I felt were legitimate concerns about property tax increases and fiscal responsibility (how did the existing schools get to this point?), which were quickly shot down with the black-and-white reasoning. I can't say what exactly took place since I was not involved with the project, but it seems a small group of people made a lot of the big decisions and then asked people to just vote yes or no. Unofficially, 2,829 voted in favor and 2,101 voted against, so it's not like there was overwhelming support. Based on this experience, I think it's very important to avoid falling into a black-and-white reasoning and get a lot of community input early on. Ask who are the people that want to "close all three high schools." Is it the community or just a few people?