BILLERICA -- While the New England Association of Schools and Colleges recently voted to award Billerica Memorial High School continued accreditation, the committee is concerned about the outdated and aging facility, placing the school on "warning status."
"The bad news is we've been put on warning, but that doesn't come as a shock to anybody because of the physical limitations at the high school," said Superintendent of Schools Tim Piwowar. "We were commended in many areas of our curriculum, but the warning has to do with what our facility offers our students.
"This report helps make the community aware of some of the limitations that we currently have, which will hopefully lead to community support for a new high school," he added. "It also helps lead to a document for our own internal use to best meet the needs of our students."
According to NEASC's report, the committee is concerned that the delivery of the curriculum is significantly impacted by an old facility; the old wing of the high school opened in 1957, while the "new" wing opened in 1975.
Some of the concerns include: the lack of adequate electrical/technological service in all classrooms to incorporate technology effectively; the undersized library and the lack of modern audio-visual facilities; the lack of adequate, on-site athletic facilities; the science laboratories and equipment are insufficient for a 21st century curriculum; the outdated conditions of the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems; and the lack of adequate parking lots and the lack of ample lighting for night events.
"A high-school accreditation status is essential because it says that our school and graduates meet the regional standard for what students need to know in high school," Piwowar said. "It has an impact on post-secondary education and the potential on employers. The accreditation gives the diploma more credence and credit.
"We're confident that our efforts, both in working to build the next Billerica Memorial High School as well as upgrading the current one, will satisfy the requirements of NEASC for accreditation," he added. "More importantly, we are confident that our efforts will best serve the students of Billerica."
As a result of the "warning status," the district will be required to submit a special progress report by Dec. 1, providing an update on the status of the district's feasibility study and the results of the Massachusetts School Building Authority site visit. The progress report will also include work that has been done in the high school to upgrade existing spaces.
NEASC conducted its site visit in September 2013 as part of the school's reaccreditation process. Since that visit, three areas have been repurposed within the high school to upgrade curriculum offerings.
A new robotics lab opened this year in the old automotive shop. In addition, a new engineering lab opened in what was originally designed as a room for typing instruction. This September, a new biochemistry lab will open, replacing the old office detention room.
Further, the school is continuing to expand its use of mobile technology carts to enhance instruction, increasing wireless network capacity throughout the building.
Earlier this month, the MSBA approved Billerica Memorial High School to conduct a feasibility study, moving the high-school project into the capital pipeline and marking the first commitment of funding from the MSBA.
The next major steps in the process are for the High School Building Committee to hire an owners' project manager, followed by a designer/architect to lead the work of the feasibility study.
The goal of the study is to identify the most cost-effective, educationally-appropriate solution for the high school before moving into schematic design, according to Piwowar.
Town Meeting and residents could vote on a proposal in fall 2015, with the school opening in 2018, but those are only estimates at this point, Piwowar has said.
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