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Letter urges Town Meeting
to vote "no" on Newman funds

Posted by Kathryn Eident  May 7, 2009 11:00 AM

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As the Needham Town Meeting prepares to vote on appropriating $450,000 for design plans for the Newman Elementary School renovation project, some parents are urging members to vote ‘no’.

In an open letter to Town Meeting members, Newman parent Rick Freedman said the town has failed to analyze all the options before moving ahead with a project that could cost taxpayers millions.

“Because the School Committee has failed to conduct this simple and valuable analysis—or if they have done so they have failed to share it with the public—I urge Town Meeting to vote “NO” to funding these designs until such analysis of the costs and benefits of short, medium and long-range solutions have been completed and can be studied by Town Meeting,” he wrote in the letter.

“…I implore Town Meeting to review the cost and feasibility of other options besides the “permanent” HVAC fix by commissioning a formal analysis from the project architects DRA, and reviewing the results with the town members,” the letter goes on to say. “This analysis could be done in a few days and is worth the time given the size of the proposed project and the corresponding impact to our town’s bottom line and our Newman families.”

School officials announced earlier this year that they would be working with the Massachusetts School Building Authority to design and fund the renovation of the school’s heating and ventilation system along with other school upgrades. The project is estimated to cost upwards of $20 million, and could take between 12 and 15 months to complete. The state school building authority could fund as much as 40 percent of the renovations, though an exact number has yet to be determined.

(See our previous coverage here.)

“The proposed “permanent” HVAC solution will be VERY expensive and VERY disruptive to the parents and children who are supposed to attend Newman,” Freedman said. “It is not clear to myself or to many other parents why it makes sense to spend close to $25 million in total to update the HVAC system of a 45 year old building, when the total cost for a Permanent Solution, i.e. to replace the building entirely, has been estimated to cost as little as $31 million.”

Freedman also expressed concern that state budget problems would force the school building authority to withdraw its promise to help fund the project.

"If the MSBA funds are not forthcoming, or the override does not pass, then this $450,000 in design funds will have been wasted," he said.

Town Meeting is scheduled to vote on the design funds next Monday, May 11th at a special Town Meeting.

To see Freedman’s letter in its entirety, click: HERE.

For more Town Meeting information, visit:

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12 comments so far...
  1. It's reasonable to disagree with the proposed solution.
    But you cannot reasonably disagree on the premise that the issue hasn't been studied enough. The opposite is true, and submitting this to more study would itself be a waste of money.
    I am quite conifdent that every good alternative has been thoroughly reviewed. Though this proposal has its own drawbacks, ALL the other options are worse.
    This is the best proposal we have. It's time to move on.

    Posted by Frank Fortin May 6, 09 11:13 AM
  1. Actually, the cost of expanding last summer's "temporary fix" to the remaining portion of the building has never been studied. As I say in my letter, an analysis of this sort should take no more than a few hours to do.

    Posted by Rick Freedman May 6, 09 12:13 PM
  1. I am not confident that every good alternative, including the ones mentioned in this article, have been reviewed. I'd be very happy if they have been reviewed already for them to be shared with the family of Newman students.

    Posted by Hope Rubin May 6, 09 03:13 PM
  1. Mr. Freedman is correct. The limited scope HVAC repairs/replacement have not been considered. This is documented in the numerous draft reports released by the PPBC.

    Posted by Holly Horrigan May 6, 09 03:16 PM
  1. Here we go again! Another waste of my taxpayer money! The alternatives have not been studied at the same level as the School Committee's proposal. If the School Committee's proposal turns out to be the best proposal then so be it. But I don't believe that this is the case. Until all possibilities have been equally analyzed in a public forum then we should hold off before committing such significant resources.

    Posted by Keith Alpert May 6, 09 04:25 PM
  1. The School Committee's $21M proposal is a poor one. We should all vote NO -- for the sake of the Newman kids and for the sake of the town's budget.

    Posted by Holly Horrigan May 6, 09 08:35 PM
  1. It is of great concern that the best argument in favor of this makeover is "it's not as bad as it could be". Other towns have accomplished similar HVAC renovations for far less money and in far less time. Vote NO to the current options and force a targeted, cost effective solution without the frills.

    Posted by Dave Horrigan May 6, 09 08:55 PM
  1. Vote NO! Putting 600 children—some as young as six—on site during construction is irresponsible. As a Newman parent, whose youngest child will be in third grade during construction, I do not support this plan.

    Construction is dangerous, and the logistical issues of this plan are a nightmare. During construction, the children will be in Newman every day for lunch and at other times for gym class, etc. The children will be in one of 38 modular classrooms in the parking lot during much of the day, but—during construction—they will spend part of every day in Newman.

    Posted by Kori Rogers May 7, 09 08:01 AM
  1. If Needham's citizens want to be educated and understand the FACTS around this situation, rather than the convenient interpretation of a very small group of people, they should attend Town Meeting on Monday, May 11, at 7:00 p.m. in the Newman School Auditorium where members of School Committee, Fin Comm, Selectmen, PPBC and others are expected to offer comment prior to Town Meeting's vote on Article 3 re: Newman's fix. To base one's opinion on the opinion of others who have been only peripherally involved, rather than on solid evidence from those charged with investigating the options, is irresponsible.

    Posted by Risa Sherman May 8, 09 11:49 AM
  1. FACT: Last year, Needham’s Capital Improvement Plan estimated the cost of a Newman HVAC replacement at $2 million to $4.5 million
    FACT: Acton, Shawseen, and Braintree accomplished school HVAC renovations with projects ranging from $500K to $4.5M in cost
    FACT: The posters above who speak in favor of the current Newman renovation proposal will not have children at Newman during the construction.
    I agree -- look at facts instead of vague, general statements, and when you hear conflicting statements, VERIFY.

    Posted by Dave Horrigan May 8, 09 02:35 PM

  1. The postings on this list have been made by thoughtful parents intimately involved in the process. Every comment, letter or post I have ever published on this topic has been backed up by hard, indisputable facts from PPBC reports, Globe articles, or the MSBA website and related documents.
    For Ms. Sherman to suggest that I have been uninvolved -- or even more appallingly, that Ms. Rogers has been uninvolved, is offensive and absurd. Most Newman parents are well aware of Ms. Roger's exemplary service to the schools, including her advocacy on behalf of Newman when the duct failure first occurred.
    Apparently, Ms. Sherman only respects those that share her agenda for a no-expense-is-to-great Newman makeover.

    Posted by Holly Horrigan May 8, 09 03:28 PM
  1. We live in a democracy, where it is not only the right, but also the responsibility of citizens to question actions made (or to be made) on their behalf by elected officials. As such, I regularly attend—and have encouraged other parents to attend—public meetings where Town business is supposed to be conducted.

    Last year, I attended just about every meeting that was held regarding the Newman HV malfunction, and I strongly advocated for both short-term remediation and a long-term solution. This year, I have attended as many town wide meetings on this issue as possible, as have Ms. Horrigan and Mr. Freedman, including the very poorly attended Public Hearing held on April 16.

    I want to support the replacement of the HV system, but I can’t support the current plan because:

    • it includes other extensive renovations, such as remodeling and expanding the kitchen
    • it has children on site during construction
    • it will cost the Town $4 to $6 million dollars just for the modulars

    You may disagree with my conclusions, but my facts come right from school department documents.

    Posted by Kori Rogers May 9, 09 09:10 AM