Board members propose rebuilding schools

Some members of the Medford School Board Thursday said they want to dedicate bond funds to rebuild two elementary schools closed last June because of unsafe structural conditions.

The board canceled a town hall meeting set for Jan. 8 on the future of the schools and instead scheduled a special meeting where it will consider allocating $12 million each to rebuild Jackson and Roosevelt, two circa-1911 elementary schools.

The majority of the board has indicated it will vote in favor of the proposal in light of intense public support for rebuilding the schools.

"This is the best Christmas present I could ever receive," said Marcia La Fond, a Roosevelt parent. "I had no idea how much energy this was taking and how hard this was, and I just started crying and crying with relief when I heard the news. I am so grateful the school board listened to the people and came to this conclusion."

Many Jackson and Roosevelt parents believed hope of reopening the schools was lost when the board earlier this month voted to build a new South Medford High School at Columbus Avenue and Cunningham Street and members expressed support for converting the existing high school into a third middle school.

Rebuilding the two elementary schools puts an end to the third middle school plan, as there are not enough funds for both.

"I think we hear the need to rebuild Jackson and Roosevelt," said board member Larry Nicholson, who initiated the special meeting. "The importance of having walking schools outweighed the benefits of a third middle school."

Jackson and Roosevelt supporters vehemently opposed the third middle school plan, arguing that the school district's $189 million bond package promised that Jackson and Roosevelt would be remodeled and never mentioned converting old South Medford into a middle school.

The third middle school would have allowed the district to fold the sixth grade into the current mix of seventh and eighth grades, thereby shrinking the large student populations at each middle school and providing extracurricular activities to more pupils.

"I still think in the long term, a third middle school is the best choice, but I don't think it'll work at this time" because of public opposition to it, said Mike Moran, board president.

Extracting sixth-graders from Medford's 14 elementary schools would have eliminated the need for two of the campuses. Jackson and Roosevelt were targeted for mothballing because of relatively low enrollment and major structural flaws.

Jackson and Roosevelt are among the last schools in the community where most students can walk to school. Jackson, in particular, offers critical social services to low-income residents, including free and discount clinic checkups, breakfast and lunch and after-school activities such as sports and homework help.

"I think it's amazing the board listened to us," said Sarah Felder, a Jackson parent. "It feels good that our hard work may have paid off, and it's exactly what our kids need and deserve."

Completing the Jackson and Roosevelt projects will entail trimming $1 million from the $83 million project to build the new high school.

Existing price estimates for rebuilding Jackson and Roosevelt at a size of about 57,000 square feet and 54,000 square feet, respectively, stand at about $13.3 million each. School district officials said they would trim those designs to fit into $12 million budgets.

"In moving in the direction toward this proposal, we will have to manage our bond funds even more carefully than we have so far," said Eric Dziura, board vice chairman.

Under the new plan, no money is slated for renovations at the old South Medford. Whether there will be any money left for renovations at the old high school or what the district will do with that building after students move to the new campus is unknown.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or

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