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Town Meeting Approves New Woodland School

By an overwhelming 166 to 15 vote, Town Meeting Members approved spending up to $59.9 million to construct a new Woodland Elementary School. After reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), the new school is expected to cost the town $34.6 million. Separately, a Zoning By-law change needed to allow the height of the new school to be 12 feet higher than the 35 feet allowed in a residential zone passed by a 175-20 vote.

Debate on the new school lasted about 100 minutes – with an hour of that time taken up by a lengthy speech against the proposal by resident Dan Niro, who said the proposed school would be "the largest elementary school in Massachusetts." Referring to the town's long-range educational plan, he stated, "A nine year-old plan from two superintendents ago is guiding us tonight. Only this opinion costs us $60 million." Niro ended his remarks by saying that he would support a new school – but not this one, across the street from his house. "They want a new school at any cost," he said.

Also voicing opposition to the new school was Michael Visconti. "There are some issues with this building on this site," he said, calling it "the wrong building on the wrong site." Both Niro and Visconti also argued against the zoning amendment. "The School Committee is asking you to give them dictatorial powers," Niro said, "so we don't have to deal with those pesky neighbors anymore." Niro has filed suit to block a zoning variance allowing the school to exceed the 35-foot height limitation.

Aldo Cecchi, chairman of the Woodland Elementary School Building Committee, led the presentation in favor of building the new school. Selectmen Chairman William Buckley – who co-chaired the committee that developed the current long-range educational plan 12 years ago, took the meeting through the history of the project. Alberto Correia of the Finance Committee explained how the town could finance the project through its existing operational budget and using money built up in its Stabilization Fund over the past decade.

"For 10 years, we've been saying, 'There's a school coming'," Correia said, explaining how the town built up its Stabilization Fund to more than $12 million. If the school were the only capital expense over the next two decades, that fund balance "would only go down to $9 million," he explained. "Can we afford it? The answer is yes," he said. "We'll keep counting on our Town Meeting Members to make the right decisions."

"We believe that this is the right plan for the Town of Milford at this time," Cecchi said. Referring to the MSBA, he stated, "This project has been vetted by those folks any number of times." If the school were approved, his committee will meet with the MSBA in late March to gain its final approval for the project, he explained.


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