Quincy’s mayor wants to spend $8.5 million to buy a three-story office building in Wollaston and convert it into a learning center for students with special needs who would otherwise be educated outside the district at the city’s expense.
The brick building at 178 Old Colony Ave., located behind Central Middle School, would accommodate 30 to 40 students and, if all goes as planned, would open in September of 2020, Mayor Thomas Koch said.
The change would save money — an estimated $300,000 to $500,000 the first year — and allow children to avoid long bus rides and remain in their communities, Koch said.
“This is an opportunity to do something important and what I believe truly extraordinary for Quincy children,” Koch said. “This is a no-brainer, a win-win. It’s the right thing to do for our families, but also, for those folks out there who look at the numbers, this should be very attractive because this is going to save significant money.”
Koch estimated that Quincy ultimately could save millions of dollars by having its own special education school and keeping students in the district.
He pointed out that special education costs are the fastest-growing part of the school budget.
Quincy currently has 9,650 students in 11 elementary schools, five middle schools, two high schools, and an early childhood center. The 2019-’20 budget is about $115.4 million, and special education costs account for about 30 percent of the total.
According to the budget, Quincy pays to send 150 special education students to outside placements, with tuitions ranging from $50,000 to $410,000 per child.
Koch announced his plan early in October and presented the $8.5 proposal to buy and retrofit the property on Old Colony Avenue to the City Council on Oct. 7. The council referred the plan to its finance subcommittee.
The property is owned by Eastern Nazarene College and is being used as offices, and also as temporary classrooms by the Woodward School while the school undergoes renovations.
The property, which has about 54,000 square feet of space, is assessed at $7.5 million.
If the City Council approves the expense, the School Committee and school administration would work out the details of the project, Koch said. As mayor, Koch chairs the School Committee.
Initial plans call for focusing on students with autism, according to Christopher Walker, the mayor’s chief of staff. He said the district also was discussing whether to invite nearby communities to enroll children and pay tuition to Quincy.
“Our kids would take priority,” Walker added.