School Board members agreed Tuesday night to move ahead with a plan to even though a consultant warned there could be game-changing obstacles ahead.
Craig Kertesz of Ruscilli Construction said the building, parking lot and athletic fields may not all fit on the 17-acre site the district owns near the high school.
He cautioned that the 4.91 acres of wetlands on the site could be costly to mitigate -- and take up to a year to win approvals.
And he said he doubts the district could get the new building open 2015, as hoped.
"I believe you're looking at the winter of 2016 before this building is done," Kertesz said.
But school board members unanimously said the district should nonetheless pursue the idea as aggressively as possible to get a bond issue -- it's currently estimated at $72 million -- on the November ballot.
"I want the ball to go forward. Keep it moving," board member Ruth Brickley said at a special work session Tuesday night.
"Press the pedal to the metal. I'm all for moving forward," agreed board member Jennifer Sinisgalli.
Board member Carl Naso and Ward 3 City Councilman Jim Carbone earlier this month pitched the idea of building a new middle school as a way to replace the aging Center and Albion schools and also save money by consolidating two buildings into one.
The plan, as proposed, also includes bringing sixth-graders into the middle school to allow one of the seven elementary schools to close.
The goal is to save enough money to offset the need for another operating levy in a few years.
The bond issue would replace another issue that is being paid off, so the average homeowner would only see his taxes increase about $12 a year.
"This has to happen now," Carbone said at Tuesday's work session. "There's a buzz in the community. There's energy. If we don't do this now, it's never going to happen."
Next step is to bring on a project manager who would agree to serve on a voluntary basis until the November vote.
The district also has to find at least $50,000 to handle the wetlands issues and bore for soil samples to see if the site is buildable.
But even if it isn't, "we have other options" for sites, Carbone said.
Board members said nothing is set in stone yet, although Naso said he believes consolidating schools is at the heart of the matter.
"This is a plan for consolidation because consolidation drives savings," he said.
The biggest challenge is the time frame -- the board only has until July 9 to put the bond issue on the November ballot and needs to have enough information to give voters solid facts when they head to the polls.