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WVN #314: H.S. would cost taxpayers $45.8 million

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dear Wayland Voter, Officials plan to ask voters to approve funding for a new high school expected to cost taxpayers $45.8 million. Also in this newsletter: --
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 24, 2009
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      Dear Wayland Voter,

      Officials plan to ask voters to approve funding for a new high school expected to cost taxpayers $45.8 million.

      Also in this newsletter:

      -- Two key department heads are hired.

      -- Questions about town government? Your chance to seek answers is a Sept. 30 state of the town meeting.

      $70.8 MILLION SCHOOL PROJECT

      The School Committee approved requesting the Board of Selectmen to ask voters to approve $70.8 million to build a new high school and demolish all existing buildings but the Field House.

      Voter approval to pay for the project would be required in an election on Nov. 17 and at a special Town Meeting the following night.

      The Finance Committee has been asked to issue a statement on the tax impact to residents.

      Of the total cost the state will reimburse 40 percent of $62.5 million, or $25 million, according to High School Building Committee Chair Lea Anderson, who said she had word from the Massachusetts School Building Authority and is awaiting written approval on Sept. 30.

      That leaves Wayland taxpayers funding $45.8 million, which consists of the town's share of reimbursable expenses plus $8.3 million in non-reimbursable expenses.

      However, by law the town needs to approve the entire $70.8 million debt. The state will reimburse Wayland as the eligible project funds are spent. In years past, the state did not pay for several years, leaving taxpayers responsible for interest on the total debt.

      Overnight, the HSBC reduced the budget request to MSBA by more than $10 million after it learned its costs were too high for MSBA approval. No program elements were sacrificed, the HSBC told the School Committee, but the size of the building was reduced by 3 percent to get to HSBC's 154,350 square feet for 900 students. In addition, adjustments were made to the quality of materials, the amount of furnishings, contingency and escalation costs. For example, instead of bluestone in the courtyard, concrete is more likely.

      Wayland's demolition costs are eligible for state reimbursement. The $8.3 million funded solely by the town includes a wastewater treatment plant ($3.16 million), site improvements ($2.7 million), additional contingency, asbestos abatement, and miscellaneous (legal, permits, utilities, moving, and storage).

      The contingency total built into the budget is $5.4 million. Recent school construction project bids in other communities have come in as much as 25 percent below estimates, but construction costs could rise in the future.

      HSBC member Eric Sheffels said the committee would investigate running the project on a "construction manager at risk" basis, which could expedite the timetable and thereby reduce some costs. This approach brings the general contractor on board early so it can collaborate with the design team to ensure a tight integration between design and building. Although some states and the federal government allow this process in public projects, it would require approval by the state attorney general.

      If costs are reduced on the reimbursable items, the town and the state share the savings.

      The plan is for the two-building facility to be open in fall 2013, so current fifth graders would be entering as ninth graders.

      A ballot question political action committee being formed, "Yes for Wayland High School" and the HSBC will hold public forums Oct. 15 and Oct. 20 for residents to learn about the project.

      Although WayCAM offers extensive TV production programs for high school students, HSBC said the state would not reimburse for space occupied by community cable. WayCAM's studio, now at the high school, therefore is not part of the high school project, and the Town will have to deal with that separately.

      Prior Efforts

      Voters rejected an earlier proposal to spend $4.2 million in design fees for an estimated $57 million new high school. Despite reassuring words from School Committee and HSBC members that reimbursement was likely, the MSBA made it clear that any municipality building a school at that time should be prepared to foot the entire bill. The state had suspended reimbursement in 2003 and created the MSBA to control costs and provide a steady revenue stream for reimbursement.

      Enrollment

      Currently there are 897 students at the High School, and 639 at the Middle School, Superintendent Gary Burton told the School Committee. Both figures are slightly under projections.

      However, the elementary schools have more students than expected and many classes are at or one student above capacity. There are 609 students at Claypit Hill and 416 at Happy Hollow. The Kindergarten has 160, a few less than expected. The total enrollment is 2721 students instead of the anticipated 2701. However, Burton said, these numbers could change by Oct. 1.

      -- Molly Upton

      KEY POSITIONS FILLED

      The town has filled the department head staff positions in assessments and planning.

      Sarkis Sarkisian became town planner on Aug. 10 after eight years in Natick as community development and planning director and town engineer. He was a finalist for the Wayland job when the Planning Board chose another candidate last spring who then resigned shortly after accepting the position. Wayland's former town planner left the first week in January.

      Sarkisian's starting salary is $75,345.

      Ellen Brideau became assistant assessor on Aug. 18. The Board of Assessors has been short-handed for some time and still needs to fill the position of administrative assessor, a job Brideau held from June 2006 through August 2008. The department is authorized to have three full-time employees.

      Brideau had also provided contractual services and rejoins the town with considerable knowledge of Wayland properties. She was a consultant earlier this year on processing tax abatement requests. Her salary is $73,816.

      STATE OF THE TOWN MEETING

      The Board of Selectmen has been talking about holding a state of the town meting since a furor arose when key town officials spoke at a closed-door session bearing a similar title on Feb. 24. Admission was limited to SOSWayland activists. SOS organizer Lisa Valone said the location -- her home -- was too small to accommodate other residents.

      So quiet was the planning that Selectman Doug Leard, who enjoyed a reputation for independence on some issues and wasn't invited, learned about it only when he asked his colleagues during a meeting. Some of them appeared shocked at his question.

      A WVN reporter who was refused admission said most of the attendees were women who appeared to be in their 30s and 40s. Forty-five cars were parked on the street near the meeting and several cars brought more than one attendee.

      There was no indication that the meeting was illegal. Because nobody would talk about the content it was impossible to disprove rumors that it involved political strategy.

      When some residents demanded a repeat of the program at the Town Building for the rest of the town, the selectmen said it would be close to town elections and "tainted by politics." But they began talking about holding a program at a later date.

      That date is Wednesday, Sept. 30 at the Town Building, 7:30-9:30 p.m., about seven weeks before a special election and Town Meeting to vote on borrowing money to build a new high school and granting concessions to the Town Center developers.

      Officials will speak briefly about their boards or committees, and a League of Women voters representative will moderate a Q&A session. Heads of all town boards are encouraged to attend even if they're not on the agenda, and to be available at the close of the formal program to chat individually with residents.

      Some concerns expressed recently by WVN readers include:

      -- Can the town afford to take on a huge debt for a new high school?

      -- Is Wayland going to be able to break the pattern of biennial property tax overrides?

      -- Will the town's interests be protected if the Town Center developers are allowed to delete affordable housing and delay a promised $3 million gift? And what about plans to build a municipal building at the Town Center? No site is part of the current process and there is so far no known plan to pay for it.

      -- The new Department of Public Works is planning a new building. Timetable? Cost?

      Speakers on Sept. 30 include representatives of the Board of Selectmen; the Finance, Community Preservation and School committees; the Council on Aging, DPW and Planning Board.

      Last February's private meeting for SOS activists advertised the school superintendent, town administrator and High School Building Committee chair as presenters but no spokesmen for Community Preservation, CoA and DPW.

      -- WVN Staff

      WayCAM OPEN HOUSE AND ANNUAL MEETING

      On Oct. 1 WayCAM, Wayland's local access cable television station, will hold its annual open house from 7 to 9 p.m, concurrent with Back to School Night at Wayland High School, where WayCAM is located.

      All Wayland residents are welcome. You can tour the studio, try your hand at using studio cameras, be interviewed live at the High School Commons, and learn more about WayCAM.

      WayCAM will hold its annual meeting at 4 p.m on Wednesday Oct. 7 at the studio. It's open to all.

      See www.waycam.tv, for the agenda and annual report.

      Further information: Ken Isaacson, President (ken@...)

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      Michael Short, Editor
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