School Project Marches On

It was a mystified Sara Mattes who questioned School superintendent Mickey Brandmeyer, Lincoln School Committee chairman Jennifer Glass and School Building Committee (SBC) chairman Gary Taylor.  During the discussion of the school committee’s planned State of the Town (SotT) presentation she wondered what the school committee would do with the feedback from citizens at the October 16 meeting, especially if the feedback is as negative as it was at a similar meeting held last May.  Would the school committee simply continue along the $50+ million course it’s on, or would it consider less expensive repair and maintenance proposals?   

The selectmen hadn’t met since July, just before the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s (MSBA) response to the SBC’s original $58 million proposal, so Superintendent Mickey Brandmeyer began with an update.  Putting as happy a face as he could on the MSBA’s rejection, Brandmeyer discussed his meeting with its representatives.  He confidently reported that they now seemed to be on the same page: a school building project that would be 10% smaller than the original proposal, with more renovation than new construction, no new elevator and a price tag that’s still on the high side of $50 million.

This wasn’t quite good enough for the selectmen and Town Moderator Sarah Cannon Holden who was also in attendance.  So Sarah reframed Sara’s question: what would happen if the feedback from the town was that it couldn’t afford to spend any more than $20 million?  Would the school committee shift gears this year and adjust accordingly? 

Apparently not.  Superintendent Brandmeyer stated that the repair only (or even a combined repair/renovation) option is off the table.  The SBC didn’t propose it and the MSBA isn’t considering it.  Getting MSBA funds for a repair/renovation project at this time is a non-starter.  First the current project would have to be rejected.  Only then would a less expensive option be given any consideration and it would require a return to the MSBA to see if they’ll fund a repair/renovation project. 

The news that the school building proponents are moving forward on only one track caused some selectmen chagrin.  Why hold another mere propaganda session at this year’s (SotT) meeting?  Mattes cautioned that the school building project’s proponents also need to manage the expectations of those attending so that residents don’t show up expecting that their ideas will be actually considered. 

After that 45 minute grilling the troika left the Donaldson Room, walked across the hall and met with the Finance Committee for another half hour, where they were grilled about how sure they were that the state’s reimbursement percentage will be as high as they think.  Talk about your one-two punch.

School building proponents have routinely used 45% as the percent of total cost that the state will reimburse the town.  So, if the project costs $52 million, for example, and the state gives us 45% of that, we’d still owe $28.6 million.  That’s a long way from the up-to $20 million the selectmen and moderator were suggesting.  And that’s if the project only costs $52 million and we get the whole 45%.

But wait, the MSBA doesn’t reimburse towns for everything.  Some parts of the project will not be covered and will be left to us to pay for at 100% of the cost.  One finance committee member pointed out that Wayland received only 30% reimbursement for its new high school and inquired as to what would happen if the state reimbursement is as low as 30%.  As Eric Harris, SBC and finance committee member sagely put it, if the town receives only 30% and the total cost is $52 million, then the project would be dead, meaning that no town official would support it. Unfortunately, it will probably take defeating the current proposal to finally be able to explore cost-effective improvements to the school building.

You can attend the Sunday, October 16 meeting about the school building project and this year’s State of the Town Meeting in November, however, your opinions probably won’t impact the project or its current status one iota.  But be sure to pencil in next Fall’s Special Town Meeting.  It’ll be around the same time period as this year’s (SotT) Meeting.  That November 2012 meeting will be when the $50 million proposal will be voted up or down. That one will be for all the marbles.


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