Rec Center Proposed for Old Middle School Site

By Adam Swift

The town may be close to determining a use for the former middle school property, which has sat vacant for seven years.

Town Council President James Letterie presented a proposal for the town to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the town to enter into a public-private partnership to build a recreation center on the 95,000-square-foot property on Pauline Street.

The proposal calls for the demolition of the existing school, alongside its auditorium and gymnasium, and the construction of a new recreation center that could include a sheet of ice for skating and hockey; basketball, volleyball, pickleball, and tennis courts; an indoor track; and other recreational and exercise areas.

Letterie said the town would lease the recreation center to a private entity, but maintain ownership of the property. The private company would potentially make money through renting out the facility for private basketball tournaments and other sporting events, while the town would also be able to use the facility for school athletics and community purposes, according to Letterie.

The proposal is similar to the agreement the town of Wellesley entered into with the Boston Sports Institute on Rte. 9, the council president said.

The next steps in the process, if the town moves forward, include demolishing the existing school and then putting out an RFP for a recreation center on the property. The cost of the demolition and asbestos abatement of the middle school property is estimated to be $1.5 million, Letterie said.

During Tuesday night’s council meeting, Letterie made a presentation that touched on the history of the site since the school closed, as well as what the town has been attempting to achieve with the development of the property.

“There’s no secret the site has been vacant for quite a long time … and it’s not for a lack of trying,” said Letterie. “There have been a lot of alternatives we have looked at and we’ve discussed the pluses and minuses. At the beginning of this year, I started thinking outside of the box to try to think of a project that would fit the goals that we have set.”

The main goals for the site, Letterie said, are a project that would bring revenue to the town and act as an economic stimulus while putting a minimum of stress on town resources such as the schools and public safety.

While residential development such as apartments or condominiums have been discussed in the past and would bring in revenue, Letterie said it would also put a strain on town resources.

Letterie said there had also been discussion about building a hotel on the site in the past, but that there was little interest from hotel chains when approached about the idea. The town also explored the possibility of having a local college or university use the site as a satellite campus, but that also did not get off the ground.

The recreational center with a multi-purpose field house and a second sheet of ice for the town would tick off many of the boxes of the goals for the project, Letterie said. He said it would bring in revenue through a lease agreement while putting a minimal strain on town resources, and would also act as an economic driver for surrounding businesses in the town.

In addition to the use of the facility by residents and the schools, Letterie said it would serve as a home for the town’s recreation department.

Additionally, Letterie said there could be three or four house lots built on the middle school property on Waldemar Avenue.

“This is not something where we are going to put a shovel in the ground tomorrow,” said Letterie. “This is something that will be vetted out and we will look at potential questions.”

There has already been a high level of interest shown in this type of project in Winthrop, the council president added.

As the proposal continues to take shape, Letterie said it will remain on the Town Council agenda as old business for the foreseeable future as the council and town administration continues to look at the possibility of demolishing the old middle school and putting out an RFP for a recreation facility.

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