Friday, April 7, 2000
FinCom recommends school expansion study; housing authority requests receive mixed reaction
At the March 29 finance committee meeting, the Carlisle School Committee let it be known that they are taking the first step towards building a new school, to accommodate the rapid growth in the town's school-age population. Also, FinCom got a taste of what the upcoming debate on affordable housing will be like.
FinCom met March 29 to put the finishing touches on financial information to be published in the Town Meeting Warrant, to make recommendations on the Warrant articles having financial impact on the town, and to consider some modest, but significant, adjustments to the Carlisle Public School budget.
School expansion study
Carlisle School business manager Eileen Riley, and school committee members Suzanne Whitney-Smith and Harry Crowther brought two budget adjustments before the FinCom: $15,000 to fund a feasibility study of school expansion, and an increase of $15,370 for the indoor air quality project approved at last year's Town Meeting.
Riley explained why the committee wants to go forward with the expansion feasibility study. "The school committee and the administration feel very strongly that the school is simply out of space," she said. "Five sections of kindergarten are moving into first grade in the fall. In addition, there are approximately 99 smaller children living in town who will be entering kindergarten."
The feasibility study would include enrollment projections for the Carlisle Public Schools; space requirements for the new school; site analysis and recommendation of a suitable site for the school; and a projected budget for building the new school. Riley indicated that $15,000 would be enough for the study, because the soil and septic work has already been done in connection with another project.
In order to free up funding for the feasibility study, Riley said the school committee has agreed to remove two items from its long-term capital budget request: $13,000 for dining room furniture and $2,000 for locker replacement, so the feasibility study can be funded with no increase in the overall school's budget.
FinCom members were satisfied as to the immediate financial impact of the proposed study and agreed to recommend the article. However, they questioned the school representatives about the schedule and financial impact of the overall expansion project. Responding to questions from FinCom chair Tony Allison and member Tom Bilotta, Riley stated that the feasibility study would be put out to bid and begun as soon as possible, and that the school committee would be requesting funding for the actual building project at the Spring 2001 Town Meeting.
Air quality improvements
The school committee representatives also presented their plans to increase funding for the indoor air quality improvement project. Last year, Town Meeting approved $153,000 to replace the rooftop air units on the school's Robbins Building. This funding should have been adequate; however, when the work was put out to bid, the contractors who bid on the work discovered that the electrical service to the Robbins Building was inadequate to support the new units. The school committee is requesting an additional $15,370 to cover the upgrade of the electrical service to the Robbins Building.
An engineer for the school explained the historical background of the electrical service problem. When the Robbins Building was built, the electrical service was engineered to support all of the needs of the new building, including the rooftop air conditioning and ventilation units. However, in 1984 the compressors which provide air conditioning failed and have never been repaired. Without the air conditioning, the power consumption of the air units was reduced by 120 amperes. Later, when the Link Building was built, the engineers noticed that Robbins had more power than it needed, so they diverted the "excess" power to the new building. The air units will be replaced with fully functional air conditioning units, but the Robbins Building no longer has enough electrical power to support them.
Despite the increased funding for the air quality project, the overall school budget for fiscal year 2001 remains as previously approved by FinCom. The project is being funded by a bonding authority granted by Town Meeting and the voters, and state law allows bonded projects to be increased by up to ten per cent without going back to the town to authorize more funding. The budget for the air quality project is being increased by exactly ten percent.
For the remainder of the meeting FinCom members examined the articles on the Town Meeting Warrant and voted their recommendations on those articles having a significant financial impact on the town. For the most part, FinCom voted to recommend passage of most of the articles without extensive discussion. When the subject of affordable housing came up, however, a lively discussion ensued.
Article 21 of the Warrant proposes that the town designate a portion of the Conant Land for affordable housing, and lease the land to a non-profit entity which would develop the affordable housing. Article 22 would appropriate $20,000 for engineering and architectural consulting services for the initial stages of affordable housing development. In discussing these articles, the FinCom members recognized that both affordable housing and use of the Conant Land are sensitive issues about which many town citizens feel strongly. Finance committee members were very concerned that, as a town body, they should not be seen as "taking sides" in the controversy.
Allison began the discussion by noting that if Article 21 (designating part of Conant for housing) does not pass, Article 22 (funding the beginning of development) would not even be moved at Town Meeting. He indicated that he did not want FinCom to recommend one way or the other on the housing issue itself. But the article provided for a town asset (part of the Conant Land) to be transferred to another entity, and such action has traditionally been regarded as making such a significant financial impact on the town that FinCom has usually voted against it.
Member Dave Ives said that the problem was that Article 21 provides for using part of the Conant Land for housing, but doesn't include a plan showing what land is involved. It would be difficult to recommend passage without seeing the specific plan.
Allison commented, "FinCom shouldn't care if it's aesthetically pleasing, or if it's socially a good use of the town's assetit's the financial transaction we should be concerned about." Ives noted that affordable housing is "a very emotional issue. It will be a hot button."
Overall, FinCom was reluctant to take a stand on the affordable housing issue. They voted to remain neutral on Article 21. If Article 21 is passed, however, FinCom recommends passage of Article 22. In effect, FinCom is neutral as to whether using the Conant Land for affordable housing is an appropriate policy; but if it does become town policy, FinCom recommends Article 22 as a financially responsible step towards implementing it.
Thanks to Chris Jones who stepped in for reporter Iris Jones when she was ill.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito