Friday, February 10, 2006
High school building plans on back burner
School building projects are being considered simultaneously in Carlisle and Concord both for lower grades and for the regional high school. Last week the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC) sat down with Concord's Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee to discuss a roadmap for school construction projects.
The RSC will wait to request funds for a new high school until the new rules from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) and the state reimbursement formula are fully clarified.
RSC member Michael Fitzgerald explained later that initial design funds will be sought in the spring of 2007 in order to have a proposal ready once the MSBA moratorium on grants ends in July of 2007. Further design funds would be requested in 2008. If approved, the RSC expects a new high school could be ready in 2012.
The voters in Concord will be asked to fund a new Willard grammar school this spring. Nicole Burkel, one of two Carlisle School Committee representatives on the RSC, described campus expansion plans for the Carlisle Public School: "We'll be ready to ask for design funds in the fall."
MSBA process and observations
The RSC described recent communication with the MSBA. In early January, every school in Carlisle and Concord was toured by Dr. Ronald Fitzgerald as part of a Needs Survey being done by the MSBA. For the Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) and other schools in Concord, Fitzgerald was accompanied by a team including Superintendent Brenda Finn, the principal of that school, the facilities manager and a School Committee member. The needs of each school were documented in a written report given to Fitzgerald. Finn is still waiting for a report back from the MSBA as well as the preliminary MSBA guidelines which were due out in January, but have not yet been received.
Concord Selectman Philip Benincasa has toured 80 schools for the MSBA, and commented that in all those visits he had only met three superintendents. He said that Concord and Carlisle had done a very thorough job and it was noticed by the MSBA. He said some more needy school systems would get 70% reimbursement from the state. "But, many of those communities are unwilling to pay the 30% required." Director of Operations and Finance John Flaherty, had just spoken with Katherine Craven, Executive Director of the MSBA. "Her comments agree with Phil's. She said some people are just not going to step up to the plate."
Selectman Shapiro said that the state needs to increase the income stream for school construction.
Regardless of how votes on new construction go this spring, CCHS will need major funds to keep the buildings going, even for the short term. A preliminary capital needs list for the high school for the next five years is over $10 million. If a new high school is approved, not all the repairs would be done, which would be some savings.
Renovation vs replacement
RSC member Jerry Wedge expressed regret that the CCHS Feasibility Study recommendation was not a renovation. "It would be easier to spend the $8.5 million on [repairs] now."
Concord Selectman Virginia McIntyre wanted to know if a free standing art and science building was an option. The RSC strongly opposed this because they feel it adds to the sprawl of the CCHS campus and does not address the numerous problems with the present buildings.
For the most part, there was consensus that Willard should be built before a new high school, but Concord Selectman Ann Shapiro was concerned, "Our kids are doubling up on science [courses] to be ready for college. We need space and better science facilities."
McIntrye also questioned whether doing Willard before the high school is the correct thing to do. Concord Selectman Peggy Briggs said it was a difficult political situation, putting CCHS before Willard.
Concord and Carlisle are better off than some of the neighboring towns. Due to budget restraints, Acton schools have no librarians, no coordinators for different subjects, and class sizes up to 50 students.
The RSC plans to hold open forums in the spring on their building plans. Wedge suggested using CCTV. Fitzgerald added, "We need to involve the communities." Stay tuned.
© 2006 The