SWAMPSCOTT — The Swampscott school district has been accepted into the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) program, a large step forward for officials seeking to replace the aging Hadley Elementary School.

The MSBA Board of Directors voted on Wednesday to invite the Hadley Elementary School into the MSBA’s eligibility period. School officials are seeking state support for a new school building three years after the town rejected a district-wide elementary school.

Hadley School is the oldest school building in town. The building’s current conditions have caused students to miss school in the past. A recent boiler replacement project at the school to keep it heated and safe for the children cost more than $400,000, which school officials said is an example of how the building is negatively affecting the town.

“This is really wonderful news from the MSBA,” Superintendent Pamela Angelakis said in a statement. “We are focused on how we make K-12 education in Swampscott equitable for all students. However, it is important to note that Swampscott’s Educational Plan reflects a number of new solutions for our students that can help ensure that the project fits within the town’s current long-range financial capacity.”

During the 270-day eligibility period, the MSBA will work with the school district to determine the district’s financial aid community readiness to enter the MSBA Capital Pipeline, according to an MSBA press release.

According to the MSBA, the next step is for the district to complete preliminary requirements pertaining to local approval and formation of a local school building committee. If Swampscott successfully completes those eligibility period requirements, the district would become eligible for an invitation into the feasibility study phase of the MSBA program, which is subject to another vote from its board of directors.

“This is a very competitive program and this year, the MSBA had over 83 communities apply and Swampscott is one of 15 communities that have been invited into a program that can help us find a cost-effective way to provide a world-class education for all of our children,” Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said in a statement.

“With this invitation, Swampscott, like other communities on the North Shore will have an opportunity to reap the benefits of the state’s agreement to pay for a substantial portion of Swampscott’s school construction project,” she said.

In the spring, Angelakis submitted two statements of interest to the MSBA. Hadley School was the primary submission and one was also submitted for the middle school. At the time, she said the reason for the two submissions was to demonstrate that Swampscott has a long-range vision for its schools, adding that an Educational Vision K-12 had been developed after the last failed school vote.
Carin Marshall, a school committee member, said at the time that the intent for Hadley School was for replacement and a new building, while the interest for Swampscott Middle School was for renovation. The new building to replace Hadley could potentially be the same size or larger but those details haven’t been determined yet, she said.

Angelakis said she plans to submit statements of interest to the MSBA for the town’s two other elementary schools, Clarke and Stanley, during the next open period of January to April 2018.
“While this is great news, this is not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question, it’s a multiple choice question, and ‘no’ is not a reasonable or responsible answer,” said Selectman Peter Spellios in a statement. “Swampscott needs to address infrastructure needs in our elementary schools and we need to do this in a responsible, fair and balanced way.”

Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald said in a statement that “the town has been planning for this project for many years now. We recently presented some information on Swampscott’s tax classification and how we are planning for the future capital needs with an eye on stabilizing the tax rate.

“While we are eager to advance this important project, we must continue to do it in a way that is affordable and cost effective. We have made significant efforts over the past few fiscal years to prepare the town for this opportunity. However, is it critically important that we engage the community right from the start,” he said.  

The effort for a new school started after the failed Town Meeting vote in 2014 for a consolidated elementary school on the site of the Swampscott Middle School on Forest Avenue. A task force was put together, made up of people for and against the new school with the intent to put another statement of interest in.

In July 2014, the MSBA gave final approval for a district-wide elementary school in Swampscott. The plans included building a new school for grades 1-4 on land adjacent to the middle school. Clarke School would have been converted to house pre-kindergarten to kindergarten. Stanley School would have been demolished with the land converted to athletic fields and playgrounds. The proposed project cost $52.6 million, and the town would have been responsible for approximately $35 million.

The proposal had to pass two votes, a two-thirds majority at Town Meeting and a town-wide ballot vote requiring a simple majority. Town Meeting voted 140-98 in favor of the school in October 2014, falling short of the two-thirds majority. The school was rejected by more than 2,500 votes on the ballot initiative that year.

“We are really thankful to have another opportunity to discuss the facility needs with the community,” said Amy O’Connor, chairwoman of the School Committee, in a statement. “It is critical we let folks know what we have learned over the last few years and that we want the community to be involved in the process.”

Town Meeting would have to approve funding for a feasibility study — site determination for the new school would come as part of the study. Once the study is completed, architects would be hired to design the building and then Town Meeting would have to approve funding for the school. A ballot vote would also be needed for the project.