State signs off on school building project
Town meeting/election vote final obstacle
BY JOSH FARNSWORTH
The Sutton school system has moved one step closer to reshaping the face of education in town.
The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) Board of Directors approved plans Wednesday afternoon to build a mix of a new construction and renovation project for middle-high school. Sutton residents will now decide the fate of the project at town meeting on Thursday, May 10, which if approved, will move to the election ballot on Tuesday, May 25.
“The approval does not surprise me,” said School Building Committee chair Wendy Mead. “We were pretty confident in the plan we put forward, and we are relieved and excited to be moving forward. Now the hard work begins.”
“I am thrilled,” said Liisa Locurto, the school committee chair. “This is not only exciting for the school system, but the entire community. I think it has been quite obvious we were in desperate need of a new building.”
Sutton submitted a final design of the proposed project at a price tag of $59,945,472 with approximately half of the cost reimbursed by the state.
The MSBA approved Option DC-1 as the blueprint for renovations and expansion at their Jan. 27 meeting. The option is a combination of two original site plans presented to the public last fall.
The option involves adding 118,301 square feet and renovating more than 56,000 square feet of existing school. DC-1 would keep the core building that bridges the current middle and high school intact.
The overall goal, according to MSBA, was to “produce the most fiscally responsible and educationally-appropriate solution to the Sutton Middle-High School facility problems.”
Taxpayer burden lightened
Town Administrator Jim Smith announced a drastic lowering of the tax impact for Sutton households at a public forum last Thursday. Smith said with many debt expenses coming off the books in the coming years, paying for the project becomes much more affordable.
The key portion of the savings comes from paying off a portion of the debt owed for the borrowing for the elementary school building project, which is a net savings of nearly $1.7 million.
Sutton still owed $2 million on the note but the savings is a result of the borrowing plan created 10 years ago, when Town Accountant Tim Harrison decided to structure the notes in a level principal payment.
“If we didn’t do the level principle repayment of this note, we would still be up against $5.5 million in debt to be repaid over the next 10 years rather than being able to pay it off in 2012,” said Smith at the Board of Selectman meeting last Tuesday.
Smith said he expected to see an additional $500,000 to $600,000 of approved debt exclusions roll-off the tax bills each of the next two years. Mead estimated the tax burden over the next 20 years to drop from $700-$900 to around $356/household.
School committee members stressed that they believed the town has a golden opportunity to use the reduced tax burden as a means of financing a project that if declined could force Sutton to take on a larger price tag down the road.
“Town residents need to keep in mind that the issues with these municipal buildings will need to be addressed regardless,” said committee member Tracey Zuliani. “The problems in those buildings are not going away. We have an opportunity to pay for it now when the town is carrying very low debt and the state is willing to pick up over half of the cost, lessening the financial impact.”
Mead added, “The town would be spending significantly more later merely to bring the building to code. The numbers right now for us are fantastic.”
If the project is ultimately approved by voters this May, Mead said the construction bid will be put ready in about eight months. She said the committee would then expect to break ground sometime March 2011 – starting with the middle school portion.
The project would move through four phases from completing the new construction to doing the renovation of the core building with completion coming around the start of the 2014-2015 school year.
For now, Mead said the goal of the building committee is to spread the word of the project in finite detail and answer any public concerns on the matter. The building committee will hold a meeting Wednesday, April 7, and conduct another public forum Thursday, April 29, with the goal of educating the public and rallying support.
“We want to reach out and get accurate information out there,” she said. “Approving this project simply makes sense.”