WVN #33: Many questions/unknowns about state $$ for new high school
- Wayland Voters Network
September 1, 2004
Dear Wayland Voter:
Many questions, many unknowns -- that sums up the August 26 public
forum on the high school project. (Forum will be broadcast tonight,
Sept. 1, Wayland Cable Channel, 7pm.)
Wayland residents asked many questions about the High School Building
Committee's plan for a new $55.5 million complex, but there were few
Perhaps the clearest answer from anyone came from Jeff Stearns of the
state treasurer's office, who said definitively that state aid for
new school projects is not guaranteed.
The HSBC's proposal assumes state aid of more than $18 million.
At the forum, residents asked the HSBC for estimates of the project's
impact on homeowners' taxes. As before, HSBC members refused, saying
consultations with other bodies including the Finance Committee must
come first. (The next Finance Committee meeting is Sept. 13.)
When member Josh Bekenstein said that the HSBC didn't want to issue
an estimated tax impact that could turn out to be incorrect, a
resident emphasized that what is being asked for is simply that -- an
estimate. Still, Bekenstein refused to offer an estimate.
In terms of the project's design, readers of WVN newsletters would
have discovered little new in the forum presentations from the
committee, HMFH Architects and Turner Construction Co. The committee
explained why it chose `Option 3,' a plan that replaces all existing
buildings on the high school campus, except the field house, with one
new building (abandoning the campus-style school).
One resident asked why the committee chose an architect and a project
manager to create three options instead of considering competing
firms. Chair Lea Anderson said the process followed state guidelines
and that alternatives would have been too costly.
HMFH made it clear that many design decisions remain open. Spokesmen
responded generally but positively when a WHS graduate suggested that
for safety reasons the new building should try to duplicate the quick
exits possible from the existing buildings. And when asked whether
the new complex really needs large computer labs just when desktop
computers may be approaching extinction, they said they were
reassessing technical needs.
If you have been looking at the details on the HSBC website and
wondering whether the school needs such things as several 100-square-
foot rooms for office copiers, the answer seems to be `yes' according
to the educational program, and `maybe not' because little if
anything has been designed in detail.
How the project would be paid for seems just as indefinite.
First, some background: The state still owes cities and towns
(including Wayland) about $5.5 billion for about 750 school projects
already begun or completed. (Preceding figures reported by the
Boston Globe.) The state stopped taking applications for new
projects last year while legislators decided how to create a
sustainable mechanism for assisting school construction in the
state's 351 municipalities. Legislation signed in July calls for a
new governing authority with new rules, specifies where the money
will come from, and ends the moratorium on applications for new
projects beginning July 1, 2007, when new applications will be
The legislation contains ambiguities (for example, the length of
school building loans), and will create an entirely new body to
consider applications and distribute the money. And before mid-2007
the state plans to pay off about $6 billion owed to municipalities
for 425 projects that were approved before the moratorium on new
projects took effect.
At the forum, Deputy Treasurer Stearns said that after the state
begins accepting new applications it plans to disburse $500 million
annually, adjusting the total in future years for inflation. That
amount would support about 28 projects the size of Wayland's, or many
fewer projects involving larger, less affluent communities that would
receive reimbursement from the state at a higher percentage than
Will there be a huge number of applicants, and how costly will they
be for the state? Stearns said it's difficult to predict because
many towns might have moved quickly to get their applications in
before the moratorium. Under the rules in effect before the
moratorium, percentages of reimbursement were higher than they will
be beginning in 2007.
In any case, if an application is denied, the municipality is allowed
to reapply the following year. Exactly how the process would work is
unclear at this point, but it suggests that there could be a greater
possibility of being denied aid than under the old rules.
Asked whether towns that begin projects before July 2007 would have
an advantage, Stearns replied that it will be up to the new
Massachusetts School Building Authority. But nothing in the law
suggests either an advantage or a disadvantage, he said.
Another possibly complicating factor is that the state plans a
statewide assessment of school needs, something that Stearns said
hasn't been done in many years. Under both the old and new formulas
for building aid, poorer districts generally receive more aid than
In addition, the Supreme Judicial Court is considering an argument
that Massachusetts is unconstitutionally underfunding education for
students in the poorest communities. Though not related directly to
criteria for building aid, that concern could be in the air as the
new Building Authority is chosen and begins its work.
NEXT HSBC MEETING: Thursday, September 9, Town Building, School
Committee Room, 7:30pm.
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Wayland Voters Network
Margo Melnicove, Chair
Michael Short, Treasurer