LOWELL -- The School Committee voted unanimously Wednesday night to make the proposed $245.4 million addition and renovation of Lowell High School its priority building project.
The committee voted to accept the recommendation of Superintendent of Schools Jean Franco, who told the City Council on Tuesday night that the high school should be the top priority based on educational needs and the flagging facilities and infrastructure in the aging facility.
"After deep consideration and review of all the data that has been provided to date, it is my recommendation that the committee vote in favor to approve the renovation of Lowell High School as the priority project," Franco said Wednesday night. "This recommendation is in the best interest of curriculum, instruction and facilities requirements for all Lowell Public School students for the future."
The high-school project is by far the largest of the five school-building projects of which the city has shown interest in receiving funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The City Council voted Tuesday night to approve submitting "statements of interest" to the MSBA for the high-school project and four other projects.
The other four projects approved for submission to the state were:
* A $26.7 million addition and renovation of the Wang Middle School;
* A $26.5 million addition and renovation of the Daley Middle School;
* A $27.
* A $36 million addition and renovation of the Rogers School, which would transition it to a pre-K through grade-8 school.
"This does not diminish the importance of the need for renovation/addition projects at the Daley, Robinson, Wang and Rogers Schools," Franco said. "These projects are of high significance and will be incorporated into our future plans."
The School Committee previously approved submitting the five projects to the state for potential reimbursement, but had been advised by Deputy Superintendent of Finance and Operations Jay Lang to prioritize one of the projects to receive as much as 80 percent reimbursement of the project cost.
"We need all these projects, no question about it," said committee member Stephen Gendron. "They all have value, but in my mind, if we're going forward with a project and want to gain as much reimbursement for the city, clearly the high school will bring the most state money to Lowell to help with the education system."
Likewise, fellow committee member Kristin Ross-Sitcawich, who had pushed to prioritize pre-K to grade-8 projects, said, "I'm going to support putting forward the high school as our priority project, but my heart goes with K-8 only for the fact that there's such high demand for our seats. That presents us with a real challenge. Beyond this particular vote, we as a committee and a district need to look at how we're using facilities in the district.
"Our projections every year keep increasing," she added. "It's not lessening. We're still going to have the same problem in five years that we do today. I don't want our city to be caught behind the 8-ball in five years because we haven't addressed the issues we're facing today."
Committee member David Conway said, "It's like when you own your house. If you don't invest in the structure, it starts to fall apart. That's what we see with some of our buildings. We have two pressing problems right now. There are some structural problems and physical problems at the high school and we have overcrowding in elementary and middle schools and they both have to be addressed. It's important the taxpayer knows we're going to do the best we can to spend that dollar as wisely as possible."
The committee originally tabbed six districtwide projects in early March, but since abandoned the construction of a new pre-K to grade-8 school.