Sudbury, 1890-1989, 100 years in the Life of a Town (Chapter 17)

Published April 6, 2001 | Informational - Historic Articles | Automatically Archived on 6/3/2001

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Chapter 17

$550,000 For A School??

Superintendent of Schools Owen B. Kiernan laid it on the line in words of one syllable in the 1947 Town Report. If Town Meeting refused to come up with money for a new school building by 1948, he would double up on classes or go for a two-session day.

The unthinkable was happening in Sudbury. With the war over, young couples with kids were moving into town and building new houses at an unprecedented rate. King Philip Heights in South Sudbury became the town’s first housing development and, if the projections were right, by 1948, there wouldn’t be room enough in the Center School building for everyone.

The Sudbury Parent-Teachers Association (PTA) was also making loud noises, pointing out that the schools were facing a critical post-war period due to “lapsed public interest and support” as well as increasing costs and a shortage of teachers. Buildings and programs, they said, were unchanged and out of date.

Just as townspeople organized for civil defense in wartime emergency,” the PTA suggested, “they could also organize in peace in defense of our way of life. To pass on the best we can find through the education of our children.

Noting that the pay scale for teachers in Sudbury was average for Massachusetts, the Association proposed raising salaries–already 61 percent of the school budget–in order to attract and keep better teachers.

Things were already crowded in 1946. The ground floor of the White Building housed grades one through six while the upstairs handled Junior High and High School classes. There were no gymnasium facilities. Two classrooms at the South School on Massasoit Avenue took some pressure off the lower grades and sixteen more youngsters attended the Redstone School at the Wayside Inn, where Henry Ford picked up the tab and threw lunch and dancing lessons into the bargain.

It wasn’t until the March 1948 Town Meeting that the matter came to a head. The School Committee submitted an article proposing an elementary school with gymnasium and auditorium which would cost the town $550,000. Faced with a $47 per thousand tax rate already, residents immediately voted the proposal down, opting instead for a $15,000 appropriation for a complete set of plans and the appointment of a special building committee to oversee the process. Dr. Howard Emmons, a professor at Harvard University who had recently acquired the old Hurlbut Parsonage on Concord Road, was named chairman.

Emmons delivered his committee’s report at a Special Town Meeting on June 7, 1948, and offered the town four options, ranging from a bare-bones, six-room, one-story building with no gymnasium, to a 12-room, two story edifice with a gym-auditorium. The town voted 194-6 to raise $285,000 for a 12-room, one-story building with gym-auditorium to be built on town land to the rear of the Center School.

Town Meeting then voted to continue the work of the committee until firm bids were obtained and reported to the town. It was nearly a year before the Permanent Building Committee, as it was now called, requested an additional $180,000 in addition to the $300,000 already appropriated so that construction could begin.

The Committee got the money, but not before a floor fight at a special town meeting on February 16, 1949. After a request for a secret ballot was voted down, the Town voted 310-95 to appropriate the funds and let the committee get on with its work. In a related article, the Meeting instructed the committee to use red brick in the building’s construction.

By now the tax rate had ballooned to $50 per thousand and Superintendent Kiernan was predicting that the school population would peak in 1956. He was wrong.

Fourteen bids were ultimately received, with S. Volpe and Co. Inc. the lowest at $395,989 for the entire project or 68.5 cents a cubic foot. Emmons noted that when state aid was factored in, the school would raise the tax rate by 9 percent to $54 per thousand.

The Committee concluded its work on October 30, 1950. when it accepted the building from contractor S. Volpe and Co. for $480,600.30, just $600.33 over budget. Emmons proudly pointed out that the town would be reimbursed $144,720 by the State in payments of $7,236 annually over the next 20 years.

As Emmons and his committee did its work, the town was moving on other fronts to keep the housing developments from getting out of hand. The Planning Board considered the first subdivision plan in 1946 and turned down a proposal for a business district. The 1949 Town Meeting established several new business zones and approved a by-law change that would limit building permits to two years.

Other zoning by-laws had been in place since 1939, but Sudbury would soon discover that they were hopelessly out of date.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Sudbury, 1890-1989, 100 years in the life of a Town, a 256-page sequel to A.S. Hudson’s History of Sudbury. Autographed copies are available from Porcupine Enterprises, 106 Woodside Road, Sudbury, MA 01776. Hardbound presentation copies are $26.25 including tax plus $3.20 postage. Trade paperbacks are $12.60 including tax plus $3.20 postage.