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Articles 11, 9 and Question 3: Middle school ramp

Voters will soon decide whether to support replacing the structurally failing elevated walkway on the street side of the Bromfield School. The walkway, called the middle school ramp, dates from 1962 and serves as an emergency exit for the middle school wing of the building, especially for students or staff with limited mobility. Both the Finance Committee and the Capital Planning and Investment Committee (CPIC) recommend funding the ramp project.

Money for the project is split between two separate warrant articles, as well as a question on the Town Election ballot. The bulk of the funding is in Article 11, asking the town to borrow $660,000 for construction of a new ramp. That excluded debt also requires voter approval of Question 3, on which people who are voting early may already have made a choice. A smaller amount is covered in Article 9 of the warrant, included with other sums from the Capital Stabilization and Investment Fund. While the printed version of the warrant shows $230,000 for the ramp project, CPIC decided to reduce that amount to $20,000 after the booklet went to press.

The school administration first put the ramp project on the district’s five-year capital plan in the fall of 2016. Town Meeting granted $30,000 for an architectural study of the ramp in April 2017. The ramp was delayed while interior capital improvements—the Bromfield science labs, interior classroom door locks, and restroom renovations—were completed.

Last fall Abacus Architects presented the School Committee with its study on the ramp’s condition along with plans for rebuilding it. That report described the ramp as “severely deteriorated” and concluded the present structure is not salvageable. Abacus found that the entire steel support structure has “deep rust,” the wooden planks have degraded, and the guard rails do not meet safety requirements. Architect David Pollack called the ramp structurally unsound.

The plans Abacus presented for a new ramp included a range of options: two family-size public bathrooms beneath the ramp for use by people at the nearby athletic field; some storage space; a stairway to the ground at one end of the ramp; and a possible seating area incorporated in the stairway. Cost figures for the full project were about $1.1 million.

One by one, those additional options have been dropped. At its most recent meeting, on June 4, CPIC decided not to support either the public bathrooms or the stairway. It reduced the amount it recommended providing from the capital fund from $230,000 to $20,000—just enough for landscaping. The School Committee, however, voted at a recent meeting to continue to support both the stairway and the bathrooms as part of the ramp project, saying it would be prohibitively expensive to try to add them at some future date.

Speaking to the capital committee last December, School Superintendent Linda Dwight said that neither Fire Chief Rick Sicard nor Gabe Vellante, then the building inspector, was willing to approve simply removing the deteriorating ramp without replacing it. Dwight also said the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), which grants or withholds school accreditation, had found the ramp “unacceptable” in its previous evaluation. Bromfield will soon begin a new evaluation cycle, she said, and it could be a problem if there were no progress on replacing the ramp.

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