The Melrose Board of Aldermen and School Committee both unanimously voted this week to send a statement of interest to the state regarding a new short-term grant program designed specifically to help Massachusetts high schools address deficiencies in their science labs.
Melrose High School's science labs were one of the building condition items cited by NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges) when it placed the school on warning status last spring. The accreditation agency report noted "inoperable hoods in some science labs that do not meet code and are labeled 'Do Not Use.'"
At Tuesday night's School Committee meeting, Melrose City Planner Denise Gaffey told the committee that the new grant program by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) is $60 million of "one-time funding" that the MSBA is earmarking solely for science labs.
If Melrose receives approval, the MSBA would cover slightly more than half the cost of the project, which Gaffey said has a rough estimate of $1.2 million. The MSBA has set a completion date of September 2013 for approved projects.
Gaffey said that Melrose High Schools science labs are an "excellent candidate" for the program, as they're original to the 36-year-old building, which the city is committed to for the near future.
Space to Meet Flexible Design Requirements
Also, due to the design of Melrose High School, the labs have ample space to work with, Gaffey said, while the MSBA is looking for flexible layouts: classrooms that can easily convert from a lab setting to a classroom setting, with lab equipment mostly on the perimeter of the room. (See attached video for a "fly-through" demonstrating some of the the MSBA science lab design requirements and best practices.)
"Right now, the laboratory equipment is a fixed station in the middle of the floor, that’s where all the utilities come out, gas and water, and precisely what’s considered not ideal," she told the committee.
Gaffey said that she and Superintendent Joe Casey have been meeting with Science Department Chairwoman Julie Shea, who has made her own assessment of the existing facilities and what the school would need.
"She (Shea) has an excellent vision of how this would work with her vision for the department in the future," Gaffey said.
The grant shouldn't preclude the city and school district from pursuing other grants and donations, such as a biotech company donating lab equipment, Gaffey said in responde to a question from committee member Carrie Kourkoumelis.
In addition to the science labs, Gaffey said the city would couple that funding request with a request for funds to complete major repairs to the Melrose High School HVAC system, much of which is also original to the building.
Mayor Rob Dolan said that statement of interest regarding the science lab project—which does not commit the city to the project—is the "first step to a full scale renovation of Melrose High School" that would focus on interior design improvements and the realms of science and technology. In his inaugural address on Monday night, Dolan spoke at length about renovating the school.
Last September, Dolan and DPW officials announced plans to privatize trash pickup in Melrose for the first time ever and reorganize the Public Works Department, which Dolan then said should generate enough future savings to tackle renovations at Melrose High School.