During a nearly two-hour public forum, members of the Elementary School Building Committee fielded questions from Zoom and in-person participants regarding the proposed Elmwood School replacement.
Like last week’s session, the first half of the meeting was comprised of reviewing the process over the last couple of years leading up to a vote at Special Town Meeting next Monday (Nov. 13) at 7 p.m. in the middle school auditorium.
The issue would go on a town ballot for a vote on Nov. 28.
Speakers included representatives from Vertex and Perkins Eastman as well as committee members.
Financial matters discussed
ESBC and Appropriations Committee member Bill Flannery noted that the day after the last forum, the committee learned the potential Massachusetts School Building Authority reimbursement rose by about $15 million, to $61,527,604.
Voters will vote on a total project cost of $158 million, which does not include MSBA reimbursement or possible rebates from MassSave and the Inflation Reduction Act (estimated at $1.7 million and $4 million, respectively), he said.
Graziano said rebates are used to reduce the amount the town must borrow so interest is not incurred on that money.
Flannery said the resulting town cost of $91 million would have a median tax impact of approximately $952 in the peak year — 2028 — and decrease over the length of the 30-year borrowing on the project.
He said the $91 million figure includes $10.1 million in contingency funds, “a cushion for unexplained costs.”
In answer to a question, ESBC chair Jon Graziano said the full cost with bonding principal and interest is estimated at $154 million over the life of the loan and subject to refinancing. He said all the borrowing numbers are “based on what the bank projects for what we borrow.”
Project would go through approval process
Traffic on Hayden Rowe Street continues to be of concern to residents. Some questions concerned specific timing/operation of a possible traffic light at the Marathon School entrance, the use of a police officer for control instead of lights, the installation of additional lights, lowering of the speed limit on Hayden Rowe and more.
Vertex senior project manager Chris Eberly and others reminded participants that if the project is successful at Town Meeting and by ballot, it still must go through an approval process by the Planning Board, Department of Public Works, Conservation Commission and more, “where they take the design and make sure it works with the community,” Eberly said.
As the proposed traffic plan is revisited by these entities, he said, it will be part of the public meeting process.
Graziano reminded residents a few times that certain concerns they had are not within the purview of the committee and this project. These issues included changing speed limits, conducting a broader, town-wide traffic study, retention basin problems at EMC Park, light pollution, the Permanent Building Committee’s options for re-using properties and the sale of town-owned properties to raise money.
Graziano recommended residents contact the town manager and Select Board on many of these matters and said he could get procedural information on how to do that out in a couple of days.
Enrollment issues, questions answered
While talking about what a “no” vote would mean, the ESBC reiterated that bringing the Elmwood School up to code and/or adding modulars to handle the growing number of students would be costly.
Upgrades would include work on the HVAC system estimated at $30 million-$43 million. The estimate for relocation of students while this work is going on is $40 million, the ESBC chair said.
To add 16 modulars by 2028 is estimated to cost $22 million-$24 million, while an additional 22 by 2032 would be $33 million.
These costs would not be eligible for any reimbursement from the MSBA, he added.
Other consequences would be large class sizes and lack of spaces for things like gym, art and music, as well as tight bathrooms and hallways. Several more lunch shifts would be needed to handle the numbers, Graziano said.
Susan Rothermich, the district’s finance director/assistant superintendent, spoke about how Town Meeting next May will vote on a request of more than $40 million for a Hopkins addition project. This request will happen whether or not the Elmwood project is approved next week.
Rothermich said by adding a grade to the proposed Elmwood School, it means the middle school will have only Grades 7-8 and Hopkins School will have Grades 5-6.
“Taking a grade out gives us space capacity at the middle and high schools,” Rothermich said.
She said the district was charged with conducting a full plan for enrollment and all the facilities, and what they are proposing at Elmwood impacts every other building.
A resident asked what happens if the building is meant for 1,200 students and enrollment ends up being 900.
Graziano replied that the MSBA reimbursement is “locked in” whether or not there is extra space and lower enrollment.
Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh was asked how success would be measured. She outlined several ways, including whether students are accommodated comfortably in a 21st century layout; have SPED and science, technology, engineering programs that evolve with the times; and if students reach their individual fullest potential which varies.
She also listed several assessments and other tests currently given to measure student performance.
“They are doing well, and I hope to maintain that excellence when and if we move into a new building,” she said.
Also covered during the forum was the site selection process after a few residents asked about alternate locations. ESBC member Mike Shepard noted that more than 40 sites were considered, with many eliminated because they didn’t have sidewalks, there wasn’t an ability to transport students back and forth, they lacked infrastructure or they required property sales by reluctant residents.