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Historical Commission supports demolition of Sanborn building 

By Betsy Levinson
January 13, 2024

The Historical Commission voted to allow the Sanborn building of the middle school to be demolished, but in a last-minute development, Commission member Michael Capizzi sought to delay the action due to the possible influence of Bauhaus-movement architect Walter Gropius. 

Gropius is thought to have seen, if not participated in, the design of Sanborn, although he would have been quite old when the school was planned.  

The old building was designed by The Architects Collaborative, the Cambridge firm Gropius started with other noted architects. 

The commission had opted not to invoke the Demolition Delay bylaw, which can be used in cases where a site is “preferably preserved.” 

But Capizzi suggested delaying the demolition to do more research for a year before the wrecking ball falls, even potentially relocating the playing fields planned to cover the original school site. He said the school “looked like a unique structure.” 

Project Architect Jennifer Soucy from SMMA applied to the Massachusetts Historical Commission in July 2022 to demolish the Old Marlboro Road building. The state Commission did not signal any historical value that would have triggered the Demolition Delay bylaw. 

Commission Chair pro tem Melissa Saalfield noted the town “has voted funds” for the demolition. 

Commission member Nancy Fresella-Lee said she is familiar with Bauhaus work but doubted Gropius’s involvement to any extent.  

“Even if we waited a year, it is still going to be demolished,” she said. “I don’t think it will have a purposeful use,” although having a Gropius building in town would be “exciting.” 

“I’m absolutely astonished this is coming up,” said Nancy Nelson, another commission member, during the December discussion. She said further research is merited, although she “doesn’t support a delay.” 

“The architect did their due diligence,” said Commission member Ryan Hanley. 

“The town has spoken,” said member Chessie Cataldo, arguing “it would be a mistake for the Commission to get involved and present a roadblock” to the building project. 

School Superintendent Laurie Hunter said “the plan is very well laid out” after five years of planning and development. She saw no reason for a one-year delay. 

“There isn’t wiggle room in the timeline,” said Hunter. 

After discussion, Capizzi said that “if the fields can’t be relocated,” he saw no reason to delay and withdrew his push for the delay. 

Saalfield called for documentation and photographs of the school before the Commission voted to allow the demolition to go forward.