By SCOTT JACKSON
Mayor Thomas Koch announced plans Oct. 3rd to purchase a Wollaston office building and transform it into a new special education center that could open as early as next fall, a move the mayor said could save the city upwards of $500,000 annually.
Koch and school officials unveiled the proposal to purchase the three-story, 52,900-square-foot building at 180 Old Colony Ave. at a press conference. The city is in negotiations to purchase the building, which is located behind Central Middle School, from Eastern Nazarene College and the deal could be finalized “very, very soon,” Koch said.
The school system currently transports 152 special education students to schools outside the city, Superintendent Dr. Richard DeCristofaro said, at a cost of $80,000 to $100,000 per student, including transportation and tuition.
The new facility on Old Colony Avenue could accommodate 30 to 40 of those students, Koch said, plus special education students attending other Quincy public schools and students from nearby school districts. The facility would accommodate students from pre-kindergarten to middle school.
The city could save between $300,000 and $500,000 annually by having those 30 to 40 students stay in Quincy, Koch said, even after accounting for debt service payments for the building and the cost to staff and maintain the facility.
“Today we send a lot of children outside of our district to get the care and specialties that they need with these challenges. With this building, we will be able to keep many of our kids here in Quincy without having to be on a bus at least an hour or two a day to and from their home in Quincy. I think that is awesome just to start with,” Koch said.
“At the end of the day, with the acquisition cost, the upgrading costs, the costs to staff the building and maintain the building, we would be saving money. This is a win-win for the families of the city, but also the taxpayers of our city and I’m very delighted.”
Koch said he will submit a request to borrow $8.5 million to purchase and renovate the building to the City Council next week. He is optimistic the council will approve the proposal by the end of 2019, at which point the School Committee and DeCristofaro would draw up plans for the facility.
“The goal is to complete the transaction before the end of the calendar year, and of course I’m looking forward to the support of our City Council, who has always been very supportive of our education side. Then, we will start immediately with the School Committee, the superintendent and the superintendent’s leadership team,” Koch said.
“The goal is to have this open in September of next year, 2020, for that school year. I think certainly from the perspective of getting the building prepared, that is a reasonable time table. As far as the process going, it’s going to be a little aggressive…but I think it’s doable.”
DeCristofaro said the new facility would allow special education students to spend more time in the classroom and less time in transit. The building would also include a parent center to increase parents’ involvement in their children’s education.
“This unique city vision allows us to enhance our special education pathways. With the wonderful space in this building on Old Colony Ave, we will be able to design and continue Quincy’s dedication to our special education children from pre-kindergarten to middle school while serving many more of our students that are within the city at this point in time and ensuring our children will spend less time on transportation and more quality time with our incredibly dedicated staff,” the superintendent said.
“It will also let us enhance parent involvement with a very, very unique parent center, allow us to limit site and program transitions for our students, because this will be their school.”
Emily Lebo, the vice chairwoman of the School Committee, said she looked forward to working with her colleagues and other stakeholders to draw up plans for the new school.
“This is going to allow us to keep so many more of those kids in our district where we know our educators and we know what they are getting,” she said.
“I look forward to collaborating with my colleagues in the School Committee…and QPAC, the Quincy Parents Advisory Council, and special education subcommittee team to do an analysis of the programs and to see which things would work best here and how, so we can offer our full support. We would love to get busy on that work.”
Lebo thanked Koch for proposing to open the new special education center.
“I think this is visionary – I really do. I have been looking for it for a long time,” she said. “The superintendent brings it to us every single year, to see if we can figure out where to place our programs and our kids so that they can get the best education and we can monitor that.
“I’m thrilled about this.”