The Select Board at its two-hour meeting Wednesday night voted 4-0-1 to endorse a budget recommendation not to exceed $158,427,494 for a proposed replacement building for Elmwood School. This figure was approved by the Elementary School Building Committee the night before in a 6-0 vote and had been recommended by the School Committee in a 5-0 vote.
Select Board chair Muriel Kramer abstained from voting, saying that she was not comfortable voting on that figure without more detailed information about the town’s capital plan.
This total most likely will be voted on in early November by Town Meeting and by residents on a ballot question for a debt exclusion two weeks later.
John Graziano, the ESBC chair, explained that the committee has been working diligently over more than a year to prepare a design and project schedule to submit to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), which will reimburse some of the cost. At this point, the design is about 30% complete.
Chris Eberly, Vertex project manager, explained that the goal was to make as many of the proposed amenities for the new building eligible for reimbursement by the MSBA while taking into account the way Hopkinton educates its students. He gave an overview of the project,
The play areas will be moved kept further away from the parking area to improve safety. Each of the grades will have its own wing so that students don’t feel “overwhelmed” by the larger building.
“The ESBC has really pushed the team to come up with cost-effective materials that will be less expensive but not feel cheap,” said Eberly. While he expects it to be “a jewel for the community,” he stressed the effort to make it “a cost-effective jewel.”
He noted that the schematic design base construction estimate is now $125,620,128 — a $9.5 million decrease from the figure initially proposed in March. Ten construction alternatives were considered to reduce costs before three were selected, saving an additional $665,439.
Eberly stressed that the building is three times larger than the current Marathon School building. Since Marathon was built, there has been a 36% inflation rate in construction costs.
The baseline MSBA reimbursement percentage is 43.42%. Incentives are given for energy efficiency and maintenance, bring the potential reimbursement percentage to 49.065%. Eberly said the expected town contribution will range between $105.5 million and $108 million. Design development documents are expected to be finalized in April, and construction is slated to begin in June 2025. The tentative move-in date is January 2028 “at the latest,” according to Graziano.
Graziano added that none of the expenses cut will affect the quality of education that students will receive at the new building. Additionally, contingency fees were built into the budget that taxpayers will not have to pay if they are not used.
Said Graziano: “As proud as we are of the work to bring this number down, I think we’re even more proud of the fact that we’ve been able to do that while maintaining that extremely high standard.”
Select Board member Mary Jo LaFreniere said the figures look “very promising.” She asked that public feedback be sought for the best ways to utilize the old building so that it will not remain dormant after the new one opens. Select Board member Amy Ritterbusch explained that the Permanent Building Committee is looking into that.
Select Board member Irfan Nasrullah expressed concern over the tax impacts on residents. Although the exact number is not yet known, the “peak number” Graziano estimated during the highest year of the 30-year borrowing period would be about $1,000. Money will be borrowed in three tranches from 2025-27.
Town Manager Norman Khumalo said that because the design phase is not complete, the numbers “should be taken as guidelines.”
Vice chair Shahidul Mannan said he hoped a more specific number would be available before the Special Town Meeting.
Kramer asked when the Special Town Meeting would be scheduled. Khumalo estimated that the STM warrant would be opened on Sept. 19 and close on Oct. 2. The Select Board would vote to sign the warrant on Oct. 20. The special election will be held either a week or two after the STM.
Kramer also questioned if there would be any budget override votes anticipated. Appropriation Committee member Bill Flannery [Editor’s note: Corrected from Michael Manning] expected that those votes would come “pretty quickly,” within the first two years of the project.
She asked to have a “constructive presentation and plan” to present to the public before Sept. 19 that would show “the complete package” of the financial impact on taxpayers.
Flannery said that the MSBA will not have the final reimbursement number for another month.
Kramer said that while the numbers don’t have to be exact, “It has to be something that we can communicate to the community in a way that we plant our feet in.”
Graziano anticipated that a “pretty robust presentation” could be ready by Sept. 19.
Kramer was hesitant to vote in favor of the amount without more details about the town’s capital plan.
Said Kramer: “What I am really struggling with is the specificity of a plan that this community is going to get around in terms of a capital plan.”
She added that the tax burden “changes the game” both for people who want to stay in Hopkinton and for those hoping to move here.
Board members discuss FY24 priorities
Select Board members also outlined their particular areas of focus during fiscal year 2024. In addition, Khumalo and Assistant Town Manager Elaine Lazarus stressed their goal of focusing on a townwide strategic plan.
Ritterbusch said she would like to work on downtown revitalization after the pandemic and focus on “sustainability, economic development and equity” for businesses along the Main Street Corridor project. She highlighted the potential for a downtown cultural district.
LaFreniere stressed her desire to work on celebrating Hopkinton during the Boston Marathon weekend in April. This will be the 100th year that the Boston Marathon will start in Hopkinton.
She said there weren’t many opportunities for community promotion during this year’s marathon, which she intends to address with the Boston Athletic Association. Local businesses had been prohibited from using the Town Common as they had in the past.
LaFreniere also will focus on impacting older residents. She proposed asking the state legislature to submit a home rule petition to exempt certain groups of citizens from contributing toward the new school project and the proposed town connection to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority system because of financial hardship.
Mannan said he would like to take the lead on economic development to spur commercial opportunities to help alleviate the residential tax burden. He also will work on the strategic plan to address the town’s growth and economic challenges. This work could spur progress on the town master plan.
Nasrullah said he would like to continue his work on helping to resolve the controversy over the Upper Charles Trail Committee and its reconstitution. He has been serving as the Select Board liaison to the UCTC and drafted a recent community survey along with Ritterbusch. He hoped that the committee could improve transparency and address resident concerns during meetings.
Kramer said she will be working with the Police Department to help it address its staffing challenges while it works toward addressing community concerns. Retired Holliston Police Chief John Moore has been hired to help address executive tasks, including preparing the department’s accreditation paperwork that is due in March.
The Select Board and HPD Chief Joseph Bennett will be working with the department on department organizational review, which will include succession planning as well as leadership assessment and department culture and teamwork. Kramer said this review should be completed within “the next one to two months, tops.”
Misc.: Foxhollow Road accepted by town
The board voted unanimously to approve the town’s taking of Foxhollow Road as a town roadway. It also unanimously approved the donation by the Hopkinton Cricket Club of turf that it purchased for the resurfacing of the town cricket pitch at Fruit Street.
Also approved unanimously was an intermunicipal agreement for grant-funded co-response clinicians to deliver services alongside police personnel in Hopkinton, Holliston and Sherborn.